What’s for supper? Vol. 81: How very Montessori

Yipe, it’s late! Never mind the introduction where I mention that we were extremely busy this week. Here’s what we ate:

SATURDAY
Pizza and birthday cake

Another birthday! Actually, this birthday was last month, but we finally got around to having the party and sleepover. Child requested calzones, but I bargained her down to pizza. The cake, I refuse to show you. Turns out it’s very possible to go very, very wrong with a simple Deathly Hallows symbol.

A few of the decorations turned out pretty good, though. Here are the candles floating over the table:

They are rolls of cardstock with electric tea lights stuck in one end, hanging from threads.

Other quickie Harry Potter party ideas: We drew banners for the four houses on poster board, and drew on white balloons to make them look like owls. We printed out “wanted” signs for the villains and tacked them up, and also printed out and cut out a photo of Moaning Myrtle, and taped that to the toilet. We wrote “The chamber of secrets has been opened” in lipstick on the front window.

Party food was not super inspired – just orange soda labelled “pumpkin juice” and lots of gourmet jelly beans labelled “Bertie Bott’s.” For an activity, the kids dipped pretzel rods in candy melt and then decorated them with various sugars and sprinkles, for wands.

***

SUNDAY
Bacon cheeseburgers, chips, ice cream sundae cones

This was the actual birthday of #1 Son, who requested this fine meal. I want to say there was salad, but I don’t think there was. We got hot fudge and hot caramel, and put one in the bottom of the cone and one on top of the ice cream. Birthday!

***

MONDAY
Oven roasted pork ribs, roast mushrooms, fruit salad

Still the best way to make ribs if you can’t grill them outside. Salt and pepper on a rack in a real hot oven until they’re sizzling hot. So good.

Mushrooms were 79 cents for eight ounces, so I bought six packages and went to town. Here’s the recipe from Deadspin (which means it’s rambling and profane and oddly endearing). This picture is from my very worst camera, but — oooh, that smell.

Strawberries and blueberries were also on sale, so we mixed them together and pretended it wasn’t a weird side dish.

I’m trying to get away from serving potatoes all the time. Not because I have some kind of theory about dietary starches, or because I’m ashamed of my Hobbit forefathers, but . . . I don’t know why, I guess I’m just bored.

***

TUESDAY
Hot dogs, onion rings, corn on the cob

Remember how we had hot dogs last week? Well, this week, we had hot dogs again.

The corn on the cob was first of the season, and middle-of-May corn tastes a lot like “too soon.” But setting the kids to shuck some corn is a quick way to redeem part of one day from what has lately become a discouraging stream of rushing in and out of the car, gobbling pre-packaged junk food, and realizing Sophia the First and her very unlikely rabbit friend have been gabbling away for four hours straight. Here! Shuck some good old corn! Be wholesome for a minute! Maybe we can string wooden beads later, or even — stop me if this sounds crazy — go outside.

So I get them set up with twelve ears of corn and, as I go about my business in the other room, I hear the honest, timeless sound of happy, unspoiled children hard at work at the domestic arts, up to their elbows in the fruits of the earth, smelling green smells, rediscovering the joys of industry. Then I hear,

Corrie is up on the table and she has nothing on her bottom! THE CORN! IS GOING! TO TASTE! LIKE BOTTOM!!!”

Sure enough. How very Montessori.

***

WEDNESDAY
Chicken apple salad, risotto

This meal was a copycat version of a salad I often get at Wendy’s. I got a few bags of mixed greens and let the kids choose their combination of warm grilled chicken, crumbled bleu cheese, diced green apples, sweet dried cranberries, toasted walnuts, and some bottled berry vinaigrette dressing. (Wendy’s version has two kinds of apples, sugared pecans, and pomegranate vinaigrette.)

Fancy!

It’s totally worth the quick extra step to toast the nuts. Put them in a single layer in a baking pan in a 350 oven for about ten minutes. I know everyone is always talking about how this and that brings out the flavor of this and that, but toasting really does bring out the flavor of nuts. It also makes them, I don’t know, more pleasing to the teeth. It turns them into interesting, adult nuts instead of stupid, immature nuts. Just do it!)

I made the chicken by marinating it all day in a bag with some bottled Italian dressing, then roasting it under the broiler on a pan with some drainage. This meal was a big hit. Definitely making it again.

We also had magic Instant Pot (Amazon Affiliate link!) risotto using this recipe (skipping the squash). I’m including a picture because it looks like a lovely little cumulous butt floating through the sky.

Imagine if butts were made with sauteed onions and parmesan cheese. What would they rain down? Pure joy, that’s what.

***

THURSDAY
English muffin pizzas

We were home for about twelve minutes in between school and a concert, so English muffin pizzas did the trick. We made about 45 of them with what turned out to be, oops, cheddar cheese.
Here’s an after-concert group portrait:

Back row: My Mother Made Me Wear This Shirt and It Burnssssssss
Front Row, Left to right: Pretty Much Always Having a Wonderful Time; Angry Because Mama Said We Can Swing On the Swings Anytime, But Not Right Now; This Skirt Is Not Who I Am; and Kind of a Violin Prodigy, Kind of Over Having Siblings

***

FRIDAY
Fish tacos and corn chips

Just frozen fish sticks, shredded cabbage, jarred salsa, sour cream, and limes on tortillas, and maybe some guacamole if I can still lift my arms by the end of the day.

 

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How ready are you for the end of school? A quiz

You check your calendar and realize there is yet another evening concert tonight. You . . .

(a) stride into the child’s room to make sure the concert apparel is clean and pressed, shoes are shined, and that the after-school snack you’re planning doesn’t include cheese, which can produce a phlegmy sound in the vocal cords. Oop, there’s just time to run out for flowers!

(b) sigh a little and adjust your schedule so everyone can get there on time. Maybe bring some work with you.

(c) barrel through the stages of grief as quickly as you can, then set to work figuring out why it’s definitely your husband’s turn to represent.

(d) contact your lawyer. This just isn’t right. This just isn’t right. 

As your child leaves for school, you notice that his shoes are pretty beat up. You . . .

(a) are relieved, because it’s been nearly four months since his feet have been measured and fitted by your on-call orthopedist. Optimal brain function is only possible when the body is cared for from top to toe.

(b) dig out a spare pair that are not perfect, but they’ll get the kid through.

(c) hope the gas station sells flip flops.

(d) growl, “Well, we got plenty paper bags. Here’s a marker; draw yourself a swoosh.”

You are packing a lunch for your kid and you make sure it . . .

(a) includes a lean protein, two servings of veg and one of fruit (local, obvs), a grain (because kids will be kids!), and . . .  let’s see, it’s Thursday, so that means the extra treat will be . . . cauliflower-based! Fun! Now, which mason jar conveys the most love?

(b) is reasonably balanced, won’t trigger anyone’s allergies, and may even get eaten.

(c) has some food in it, none of it used.

(d) is heavy enough to appear to contain food, for plausible deniability.

You are informed there will be three field trips next week, each one requiring a special lunch and extra snacks, early drop-off and late pick-up time, a sheaf of permission slips and release forms, and of course a check. And money for the gift shop. You . . .

(a) sprint to the phone to volunteer as chaperone. You always wanted to see how they sort industrial grit, and now you get to do it alongside a large group of middle schoolers! Win win!

(b) are just grateful someone else is organizing these things. It’s nice, really, that kids get to break out of the routine.

(c) shout, “FINE” and tear a check from the checkbook so violently that you accidentally clock the kid in the jaw, and when she stops crying, she admits that she didn’t want to go anyway because her best friends Braeydinn and Peyytun are being weird, so you decide to just skip it and get donuts together.

(d) take the kid by the hand and ask him if he really wants to go, grasping his hand tighter and tighter until he begs you to let go, I mean let him stay home and help you get caught up on laundry and really just be useful to you in any way you need, really.

You scroll ahead in your calendar to find out when the last day of school is, anyway. You . . .

(a) sit right down and write a thank-you note to the superintendent for all his hard work and wise and prudent choices over the year. Those guys just don’t get enough credit, you know? Six figure income, you say? That doesn’t seem like enough.

(b) sigh a little bit, but you have to be grateful there is such a thing as school. Some places don’t have school.

(c) massage your temples, breathe like your therapist wants you to breathe, and work toward a place of acceptance, by which you mean “only soft screaming.”

(d) decide that, as of this minute, you are homeschooling, dammit, and it is summer.

***

Scoring:

Come on, what do you want from my life? A+. You all get an A+. All right?

Image by Ian Chapin via Flickr Creative Commons

St. Damien wasn’t a white savior, but he was like Christ

His mission wasn’t to bestow salvation on them, but to help restore them to a life of dignity that they deserved as fellow human beings, by teaching them about Christ, by helping them to take care of themselves, and most of all by becoming one of them.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image: By Sydney B. Swift [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Dear priests: This is how to survive mother’s day

Dear Father,

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve said, “Quit telling priests what to do.” You guys are super busy and already working harder than anyone could reasonably expect.

But today I’ll give one of those imaginary dollars back, because today I’m going to tell you what to do this Sunday. Trust me, it’s for your own good.

This Sunday is, as you no doubt know, Mother’s Day, and a lot of your parishioners are going to expect you to acknowledge it. Also, a lot of your parishioners are going to be mad if you acknowledge it.

A good portion of your congregation feels that the world despises motherhood, and they look to the Church to be the one place where they are appreciated for their sacrifices and their hard work.

Another good portion of your congregation feels that the world only cares about women if they are mothers, and they look to the Church to be the one place where no one despises them for not being mothers.

Some of your parishioners are pregnant, and they’re miserable about it. Some of them desperately wish they were pregnant, and are working hard not to hate their fertile sisters. Some of them look pregnant, but are just fat, and if one more well-meaning priest blesses their unoccupied abdomens, they’re going to sock him in the jaw.

Some of them look pregnant, but they’re the only one who knows that the baby they’re carrying is already dead.

Some of your parishioners are the mothers of children who are already buried, or children whose bodies went straight into the hospital’s incinerator while their mothers wept and bled. Some of your parishioners paid to have their children put there.

Some of your parishioners have been wretched mothers, and they know it. Some of them have been excellent mothers of wretched children, and everyone assumes that wretchedness must be the mother’s fault.

Some of your parishioners hated their mothers. Some of them just lost their beloved mothers yesterday. Some of them never knew their mothers at all.

Some of your parishioners are excellent mothers who pour their heart, soul, mind, and strength into caring for their families, and as soon as they get home from Mass, everyone expects them to get right back to cooking and cleaning and making life easy for everyone else, the same as every other day.

And then, of course, you will have the people who are mad that you mentioned a secular holiday during Mass. And the people who remember how much better it was when Fr. Aloysius was in charge, oh yes, it was much better then. It’s a shame.

So, what’s your plan, Father? Gonna make all the mothers stand up and be acknowledged? You’ll be forcing a lot of women to make a statement they may not want to make. Gonna pass out carnations? Same problem. Gonna make us extend our hands over mothers in blessing? Well, you’re the priest, aren’t you. We would rather keep our hands to ourselves.

The real answer would be for Americans to just calm the hell down about motherhood, and not to expect the Church to cater to their every emotional need. But that’s not where we are right now. It’s a mess, and you’re right in the middle of it. Sorry! But I really do think you can thread the Mother’s Day needle without getting poked if you offer something like the following blessing before the end of Mass:

On this Mother’s Day in May, which is Mary’s month, we remember that our Blessed Mother was honored above every other human being besides Jesus Himself when she was asked by God to bear His Son. We ask God’s blessing on all women, because all women, no matter what their state in life, are specially privileged to bring Christ into the world. Mary is our model in joy and in suffering, in trust and in sorrow. We ask Mary to intercede for our earthly mothers and for all the women who cared for us, and we ask the Holy Spirit to increase our love so that we will always honor the women in our lives. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. 
Amen.

Then scoot out the side door before anyone can yell at you.
Amen.

***

Photo of woman who is disappointed in you via Pixabay
This post originally ran at Aleteia in 2016.

From the Department of Feeble Excuses

One day in college, my friend Tiffany pulled an all-nighter to finish a long essay. Despite her efforts and gallons of coffee, she still couldn’t get it done, so she had to ask for an extension. She climbed the stairs to our professor’s office, and crazed with panic and exhaustion, hurtled through the door shouting, “Dr. Glenn, I’ve come to throw my feet at your mercy!”

She got the extension. Mainly because it was such a thrill for him to be present at the birth of a brand new feeble excuse.

At my sister’s house, they have an entire Department of Feeble Excuses. (If I remember right, the phrase “feeble excuses” comes from The Honeymooners, when Ralph Kramden believes that he’s finally got the upper hand with his dreadful wife, Alice. When she tries to set him straight, he cuts her off, saying, “Tut tut! None of your feeble excuses.” Of course, she eventually shows him what a useless moron he has been once again, and he retracts his expressed desire to send her to the moon with his fist, and then pronounces her the greatest. Which isn’t necessarily worse than the way marriage is routinely portrayed on TV in the 21st century, but  . . . hey, has anyone noticed that Ed Norton is basically Tigger?)

The Department of Feeble Excuses at our house regularly issues threadbare explanations to defend the indefensible, to explain the inexplicable, and to attempt to deflect well-deserved shame and disapprobation by being ridiculous. It is perhaps the most prolific of all the departments in the household, and it is surprisingly effective. Here’s a few examples from recent days:

“Sorry we let the baby eat all the brown sugar, Mama. She . . . had a gun.”

Which can’t possibly be technically accurate, and yet I know what they meant. I’ve met that kid. I probably would have helped her strap on that sugar like a nosebag.

Then there was the time that one teenager was making cookies, and the other teenager went in to nab one. The baker yells, “NO!” and the cookie nabber yelps, “Sorry! I forgot who I am!”

I let them work through that existential problem all by themselves.

Then we have that one kid who can’t even bring dress his defense up in actual words, and just starts rolling his eyes and making non-specific gargling noises like malfunctioning garbage disposal. Then he sidles out of the room like a crab. I don’t know why this works, but it almost always does. 

Help me flesh out this feeble excuse for a blog post. Teachers, parents, supervisors, responsible human beings of the world:  What’s the feeblest excuse you’ve ever heard (or offered)? Did it work?

 

 

***
Image: Edward Lear, More Nonsense [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What’s for supper? Vol. 80: We built this city on salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

Another week of many toils, trials and snares! Happily, ground beef was on sale, which helped. Here’s what we had this week:

SATURDAY
Hamburgers, chips, sweet peppers and hummus

Boy, Saturday was a long time ago.

***

SUNDAY
Vermont turkey sandwiches

So good. You pile on sliced turkey (smoked if you got it), bacon, sharp cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, and slices of Granny Smith apple on ciabatta bread with honey mustard dressing and plenty of pepper. Really excellent combination of flavors and textures.

We also had potato salad, made by my 17-year-old. I am not sure which recipe she used — something basic, with mayo, vinegar, hard boiled eggs, and celery.

***

MONDAY
Pulled pork, french fries, cole slaw

For the pulled pork, I used a bottle of Blue Moon Beer and lots of salt and pepper with the pork butt in the slow cooker. I think this is my favorite beer so far for pulled pork. It has a nice malty, orangey flavor. Or whatever. It tastes different from Budweiser, okay?

I piled up my plate with skinny french fries, heaped the pulled pork on that, squirted on some bottled BBQ sauce, and added some dreadful yellow cheese sauce that I had heated in the microwave. Magnificent.

Here’s the cole slaw recipe we like. It’s a tiny bit runny, but so tart and bright-tasting, it makes a wonderful side dish for a heavy, savory main dish. I think I may chop the cabbage in little squares instead of shredding it, next time. Excitement.

***

TUESDAY
Hot dogs, cheez puffs, beans

I had Mr. Thirteen-year-old make supper. Okay, I told him to cook some hot dogs in a pan. I didn’t tell him when to stop cooking the hot dogs. They were . . . crunchy.

Our kitchen may not be fancy, but there is a window next to the stove. And that has made all the difference.

***

WEDNESDAY
Chicken thighs roasted with potatoes; steamed asparagus

This is a good meal to prep in the morning and throw in the oven in the evening.

I laid chicken thighs and drunksticks [ha, I mean “drumsticks,” but drunksticks sound like fun, don’t they? At least until the next morning] in a shallow pan, then put potato wedges, skin on, all along the edges and in between the chicken. Drizzle the whole thing with olive oil and sprinkle it with tons of salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

Put it in a 400 oven for maybe half an hour, then turn on the broiler to finish browning it at the end. So good and easy.

It turned out a little wetter than I would have liked, so I may use a slotted broiler pan next time to let it drain a bit.

Now that I’ve discovered roast asparagus, steamed is no longer my favorite; but the oven was occupied. Steaming is fine, as long as you take the asparagus out promptly, while it’s still a little crunchy. Little lemon juice and you’re all set.

***

THURSDAY
Meatball subs

I usually make meatballs with half a cup of breadcrumbs per pound of meat and some milk, but we hardly had any breadcrumbs. So I used rolled oats, with lots of trepidation.

I guess it was five pounds of ground beef, two pounds of ground turkey, about six cups of oats, seven eggs, and (following this week’s theme of exotic seasoning) tons of salt, pepper, and garlic powder. I was in a huge rush, so no diced onions, parsley, fresh garlic, or anything. I forgot to add milk.

I make meatballs in a 350 oven, in pans with some drainage. They keep their shape, they’re not too greasy, and you can do it in all one batch.

I made probably eighty meatballs. They turned out great! Very light. I think I’ll use oats from now on. I thought the kids would be turned off if they could see the oats stuck in the meat, but after cooking, they looked no different from normal meatballs.

Yes, I realize I just implied that my kids are normal meatballs. I stand by that.

***

FRIDAY
Ricotta spinach pasta

Here’s a recipe from Budget Bytes that I haven’t tried in a while. I remember it being creamy, satisfying, and easy. I even sprung for actual fettucine, because the flat noodles pick up more creamy sauce than spaghetti does. I spent most of my life thinking that pasta came in different shapes just because Italians get bored easily, but there’s also some sheer physics involved.

***

And now a question for my educated readers. We’re having a birthday party on Saturday, and one of the guests has a dairy and gluten allergy. The kids have so many friends with allergies, I’m used to making safe cakes, but what can you suggest for snacks and candy? The theme is Harry Potter, if that helps.

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Blessed are the ungifted. Everything’s a gift.

The music of Bach is not something that, say, Barry Manilow could have achieved if he simply put in more hours. You can gather tinder all day and stack it like an expert, but without a spark, there will be no flame.

I used to fret over this problem a lot as a child. I obsessed over a book of saints, where the common thread seemed to be that these people had been different from the very beginning. Tiny Ludwiga could lisp the Pater Noster long before she even learned to say her own name; pious Edelbert would toddle away from his nurse every chance he got, only to be found once again sound asleep under his favourite spot, the tabernacle in the village church.

“How the heck can I compete with that?” I used to think.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

IVF jewelry and the scandal of sentimentality

Last week, pop science entertainer Bill Nye set off a wave of righteous indignation by asking, “Should we have policies that penalize people for having extra kids in the developed world?”

The only response is, of course: What the hell do you mean, ‘extra?'” What is an extra child? Who is disposable and extraneous, and who gets to decide? Are you “extra,” Bill Nye? Am I?

Last night, I saw for myself what an extra child looks like. An Australian company called Baby Bee Hummingbirds will take your extra, unused IVF embryos, preserve and cremate them, and then encase them in resin as “keepsake jewelry.”

The founder asks, “What a better way to celebrate your most treasured gift, your child, than through jewellery?”

Well, you could let him live, I suppose. You could allow him the basic dignity of spending time in the womb of his mother, to live or not, to grow or not, but at least to have a chance. You could celebrate the life of your child by giving him some small gift of warmth and softness, however brief, rather than letting him travel in an insulated pouch from lab to lab, frozen and sterile from beginning to end. You could conceive a child so as to give him life, and you could rise like a human should above the blind proliferation of biology.

I have not experienced the anguish of infertility. I can easily imagine how the ancient, unquenchable desire for a child would drive a couple to consider IVF. Who would fault a loving couple for wanting a child?

I can imagine, if I had no guidance, seeing IVF as a way of simply bowing to the inevitable awkwardness of life. We’d rather do things the natural way, but sometimes nature fails us. If science offers us a workaround, and we end up in a place of love, what does it matter? I can imagine thinking this. It is natural to want children.

And it is natural to want our children to remain with us even if we can’t hold their plump, warm baby bodies in our arms. We want something we can touch. I can imagine this: Knowing, no matter who thinks they’re just “extras,” that these embryos are more than just specimens. I can imagine wanting to keep them safe, or something like it.

And so the mother does the thing that makes the most sense to a pagan, when nature fails her: She bows to artifice, and finds a way to bring her children with her, clumsily, sentimentally, but grasping at something that seems true: We are made to be with the ones we love. We are supposed to be able to give them life, and to keep them safe.

She knows they are her children. But does she know what children are?

In order to turn embryos into jewelry, one must believe that all children, and all people, can be made safe. One must believe there is such a thing as safety in this world.

“It’s about the everlasting tangible keepsake of a loved one that you can have forever,” says the founder of the jewelry company.

But mothers, and fathers, and you barren ones, listen to me. You cannot have any loved one forever. Don’t you know that they all go? Don’t you know this?

Sometimes it happens before we even knew they existed; sometimes it happens when they are old and feeble, frightened and crying for death. But they all go. No one is safe. No one can be preserved. Why are you lying about it? Haven’t you been through enough springs to know that winter always comes? Haven’t we been through this? No one is with us always, until the end of time.

Anyway, hardly anyone.

Imagine, a body encased in glass, made portable, made consumable. But not jewelry. Instead, a sunburst, a fountain of life, a wellspring, the maker of worlds somehow contained, first in His mother’s womb, and now on our altars, through springs and winters and then through springs again.

The body inside is a willing victim. Not preserved in death, but alive forever, immortal. Here is the difference between the scandal of the Incarnation and the scandal of sentimentality. The Incarnation invites us to accept forgiveness, bought for us through His death. Sentimentality puts our sin always before us, but tells us we can be comforted through everlasting death.

I do understand. We want the body. We grieve when the beloved one is lost to us, even if, like the parents who make “extra” embryos, it’s entirely our fault that our children are cold and dead. We want to heal our grief, to control it, to contain it.

That is not how sin is healed. That is not how death is conquered. Healing comes when we send our dead to be with Him, not preserved forever in death, but to be restored forever in His life.

I commend all the dead, all my beloved ones who are passing away like the grass: Go and be with Him. You don’t need to stay here with us, to comfort me in my weakness. Go and be with Him.

***
Embryos image by ZEISS microscopy via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Monstrance image by Aleteia image department via Flickr (Creative Commons)