From The Boy Who Lived to Beatification: Fulton Sheen’s First Miracle

“Fulton Sheen, Fulton Sheen,” prayed Bonnie Engstrom. She had just given birth, and her baby boy was dead, his umbilical cord tied tightly around his neck.

He did not breathe; his heart did not beat. His leg was necrotic from a misfired epinephrine shot intended to revive him. Sixty-one minutes after delivery, his heart still did not beat, and the monitor showed nothing but “pulseless electric activity.” He could not be revived, and the ER doctors turned away to call the time of death. 

Still his parents prayed to Fulton Sheen. Then the baby’s heart began to beat.  

His mother and father believe it was the intercession of Fulton Sheen that brought him back to life – not only back to life, but back to health. The child, James Fulton Engstrom, shows no physical or mental defects from the hour he spent among the dead nine years ago.

James Fulton Engstrom (photo courtesy of Bonnie Engstrom; used with permission)

On Friday, Pope Francis decreed that it was indeed through Fulton Sheen’s intercession that James Engstrom was healed after his parents prayed to Sheen for help.

Sheen, the telegenic archbishop known for his groundbreaking evangelization via TV and radio, will now be beatified — the final step before he is declared a saint. 

Fulton Sheen in 1956. Photo by ABC Radio [Public domain]
The cause for Sheen’s beatification was put on hold after the archdiocese of Peoria and the archdiocese of New York both claimed his body. A five-year legal tussle ensued, and it wasn’t until June of 2019 that New York renounced its wish to keep Sheen’s body at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Weeks later, his remains were moved to St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Peoria, and the cause for his beatification immediately moved forward. On July 6, the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints promulgated the decree approving Sheen’s miracle

Beatification is formal recognition that a person is in heaven, and it means that we may now pray to him for intercession. Those who are beatified may be referred to as “Blessed [Name];” and they may be venerated publicly “in places closely associated with his or her life and ministry.”

With his beatification, Sheen is now one step closer to sainthood. Before he is canonized, the Vatican must approve a second miracle attributed to his intercession. The second miracle must take place after the beatification ceremony. 

How does the Church actually decide who should and shouldn’t be beatified or canonized?

“Some people think that there’s a ‘wink and nudge’ attitude in the Vatican,” said Omar Gutiérrez, who is the notary for a tribunal working through the beginning stages of another cause for beatification, this one for Fr. Edward J. Flanagan, Founder of Boys Town.

“But the remarkable thoroughness of the process took me aback,” Gutiérrez said.

I interviewed Gutiérrez back in 2014, along with Msgr. Richard Soseman, who oversaw the cause for Sheen’s canonization, and Bonnie Engstrom, whose book describing her family’s experience will be released in the fall The interview originally ran, in a somewhat different form, in Catholic Digest

I’ve included a glossary of terms at the end. 

wherever the evidence leadS

Bonnie Engstrom and her husband have always believed it was through the intercession of Fulton Sheen that their son’s life was restored; and a thorough investigation into the details of their story has borne out their theory. A rigorously trained team of investigators pored over every aspect of James Fulton’s seemingly miraculous recovery before adding his case to the cause for the beatification of Fulton Sheen. One tribunal charged with collecting information about a holy person examines alleged miracles, and another one focuses on the life and works of the person himself.

When a candidate’s name is suggested for veneration (the step before beatification), a petitioner asks a bishop to get permission from the Vatican to open a cause. If there is no objection, the petitioner names a postulator to oversee all the logistics of the cause.

Gutiérrez said that the process is like a legal investigation.

“We go wherever the evidence leads us,” he said. “We’re instructed not to cover over anything, but to be forthright. We took a vow of secrecy, because we want people who might have unpleasant information to feel free to come forth.”

In the cause for the beatification of Abp. Sheen, Msgr. Richard Soseman was delegated by Archbishop Jenky of Peoria to oversee all facets of the cause for canonization, and to compile evidence about Sheen’s life for review by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (CCS) at the Vatican. Msgr. Soseman, who is an official of the Congregation for the Clergy, said, “We were in contact with around one hundred people who knew Archbishop Sheen personally, and took testimony in the way prescribed by the Church from the greater part of them.”

Sheen at the Toe of St Peter’s statue in St Peter’s Basilica. Photo by Heather Cowper www.heatheronhertravels.com/ (Creative Commons)

Once the diocesan phase is done and the postulator has submitted his argument in favor of the candidate, and once a team of historians, theologians, and prelates for the CCS unanimously agree that the candidate led a life of exceptional virtue, he is referred to as “Venerable.” Then (in the case of non-martyrs) the CCS will consider evidence about any allegedly miraculous events brought about through the intercession of the Venerable in question.

the case was strong

This is where James Fulton Engstrom came in.  James’ mother, Bonnie, said, “My mom told me that I needed to contact the Sheen Foundation, so they would at least have a record of his story. I sincerely thought they would just write it down in a book somewhere in a back room, and that would be that.”

In many cases, that is precisely what happens. Msgr. Soseman said that, when he worked for the archdiocese, he got requests for inquiries into causes as frequently as once a month.

“There are some Causes which ‘fall apart,’ he said, “and perhaps they should at the time that they do. There are some which start a bit slowly, and others which stall at various stages in the process.  I believe there are about 800 causes at the CCS waiting for a miracle or other progress.”

But in the case of James Engstrom, one person talked to another until the postulator in Rome determined the case was strong.  The cause has moved forward with unusual speed – but with no lack of thoroughness. Engstrom was interviewed countless times, and spent years answering detailed questions about her son’s health, and about her and her husband Travis’ devotion to Fulton Sheen. 

The tribunal discovered that Bonnie’s entire pregnancy had been dedicated to Sheen.  She said, “Several witnesses were called who could testify to the fact that Travis and I had a growing devotion to Fulton Sheen; and questions were asked about when and how we and others prayed.”

No natural explanation

The allegedly miraculous event itself is scrutinized in great detail. The tribunal interviewed experts and witnesses to testify about the medical aspects of James’ ordeal.

Engstrom said that the panel of physicians searched hard through witness testimony and medical records, looking for some natural, medical explanation for what happened to her son. Engstrom said she appreciated how hard the panel worked to flush out the truth.

“In some ways it was a lot of fun,” she said. “But every time I tell James’ story, especially the more detail I share, it is difficult. My little boy went through a lot.  It was difficult to watch, and it is difficult to remember.”

Msgr. Soseman said, “The Church is quite rigorous in this process, to make sure that no error or over-enthusiasm creeps in, which might cloud the issue.”

In March of 2014, the panel of physicians appointed by the CCS unanimously agreed that there was no natural explanation for James’ revival and healing. In June, the panel of theologians agreed that the alleged miracle occurred through the intercession of Sheen.

Miter worn by Fulton Sheen. Photo by Nic Wilson (flickr.com/photos/66335735@N07/) Creative Commons (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/legalcode)

“We had no idea what to expect!” said Engstrom. “We were totally blown away by the beauty of [the process] — the language used, the sealing wax. We were really impressed with how earnestly the Church wants only the truth. That was really beautiful to watch, too.”

a mountain of Paperwork

Along with the ceremony and beauty, there is a mountain of clerical work involved in a cause for beatification and canonization. 

Gutiérrez said that one aspect of the process that raises eyebrows is the cost. “One complaint I often hear,” he said, “is about the money involved. But the money goes toward paying for postulator’s salary, and for printing. The amount of printing involved is immense.”

When  Msgr. Soseman worked with the Congregation for the Clergy in 2008, he said his office prepared multiple copies of the 6,500 documents gathered in the local phase of the cause alone.

After those thousands of pages for the cause are read and considered, and the theologians and physicians recommend that the cause continue, the cardinals and bishops who are members of the CCS must vote on whether to present the case to the Pope.

everything rests with the Pope

If they vote to continue, they will recommend that the Pope make a Decree of Heroic Virtue – which he may do even before a miracle is declared. Ultimately, everything rests with Pope Francis: he may do nothing, or he may declare that the miracle is valid, and the candidate will be called “Blessed.” For the candidate to be declared a saint, a second miracle is required.

A date has not yet been set for Sheen’s beatification. The ceremony will take place in Sheen’s hometown of Peoria, IL, near where the Engstrom family lives; but the canonization would be held in Rome.

Cathedral of St. Mary in Peoria. Photo by Farragutful [Public domain]

Engstrom said in 2014, “If James’ healing is declared a miracle, I think there’s a good chance James would get to present Sheen’s relics to Pope Francis. As a mom, that is both incredibly exciting and terrifying!” 

At the time, no one knew how much longer will it would before the Pope make a pronouncement about Fulton Sheen.

“In the end,” said Engstrom, “This isn’t about James or our family. It’s not even about Fulton Sheen. In the end, this is about Jesus Christ. All of this — the canonization process, the miracles, saints — it’s all a means to an end, and that end is for every person to know and love Almighty God, to live lives that bring Him glory and honor, and to find salvation through Jesus Christ.”

***

Glossary of terms 

Once secret and mysterious, the beatification and canonization processes  are now more familiar to laymen – but some of the terms can be confusing. Here are some of the words and phrases you may hear:

Servant of God: title given to someone for whom a cause for beatification and canonization has begun

Venerable: someone whose martyrdom or heroic virtue has been formally recognized by the Pope

Beatification: recognition that a person is in Heaven. We may pray for intercession in the name of someone who has been beatified, and refer to him as “Blessed So-and-So”

Canonization: recognition that a person is in Heaven and may be universally venerated. Canonization does not make someone into a saint; it infallibly declares that his life is worthy of veneration and imitation

Congregation for the Causes of Saints: the body that oversees the entire process and turns all materials over to the Pope

Petitioner: appoints a postulator and pays for costs associated with the cause

Postulator: Initiates a cause for beatification or canonization and guides it through the process, documenting all relevant information about the candidate, identifying witnesses, and generally organizing and coordinating everything, and formally presenting documents to the CCS

Tribunal: Officials appointed by the bishop to consider evidence for and against canonization

Positio:  The comprehensive document that the postulator presents to the CCS, describing the person’s heroic virtue and the alleged miracle attributed to his intercession

Nihil obstat: (“nothing stands in the way”) A formal declaration by the CCS that there is no impediment to proceeding with the cause   

Theological Commission: Body of theologians appointed by the bishop to examine the writings of the candidate, to be sure there are no theological problems

Historical Commission: Body of scholars appointed by the bishop to examine the acts, visits, and timeline of the candidate

Both commissions report to the tribunal set up by the bishop who has taken up the cause.

Relator: the “reporter” who assembles documents pertaining to the candidate’s life, history, era, and circumstances. Performs many of the tasks associated with the now defunct “Devil’s Advocate” 

Special thanks to Omar Gutiérrez of the Archdiocese of Omaha for his patient and invaluable help in explaining and clarifying the process.

What’s for supper? Vol. 177: Don’t call it a barbecue!

What a week! Summer is officially underway, emitting showers of sparks as it comes. If I finally figured things out, this post contains two videos.

Here’s what we had this week:

SATURDAY
Grilled ham and cheese on sourdough

Saturday was twelve years ago. Let’s see if I took a picture of my sandwich. 

Oh yeah!

Sometimes you takes the trouble to plates your dinner, sometimes you don’ts.

SUNDAY
Chicken shawarma with vegetables, pita, and yogurt sauce; frozen grapes

It’s been too long since we shawarma’d. I marinated the meat in the morning and cooked it under the broiler, since it was too rainy to grill outside. We had the meat and onions with black and kalamata olives, feta, parsley, pita and yogurt sauce, tomatoes and cucumbers.

Frozen grapes are a splendid way to clear your head when you’re feeling hot and grumpy. Just remember to dry them off before you freeze them, or they will get a little jacket of ice. 

MONDAY
Hamburgers

I also feel like there was some vegetable involved, but I can’t prove it. What I did do was add my little portion to the worldwide onslaught of senseless food videos.

The occasion was that we have new knives like rich people, but I suffered a relapse and bought a meat chub like a poor. See, Damien and I discussed how we are now so wealthy, we no longer have to buy ground beef in opaque plastic printed with a photo of the meat allegedly inside, but can now treat ourselves to meat you can see! But on the other hand, this meat chub was so cheap.  So I tried to make the best of it.

Watch the video if only to hear Damien yelp as I severed the chub.

TUESDAY
Chicken nuggets, cheezy weezies, snap peas

We were supposed to have this meal on Wednesday, so we could do party shopping and cleaning, then have a quickie meal, and then run off to see the city fireworks. But I spent so long prepping Tuesday’s meal, I ran out of time to cook it. So we had the nuggets. I amused myself by plating it nicely. 

I AM AMUSING.

WEDNESDAY
Sesame lime chicken, cucumber salad, cherries

This chicken was a NYT recipe I simplified and messed up a little. It was tasty. Not quite as razzle dazzle as I expected, what with the lime zest, fresh ginger, and fish sauce

but a pleasant, robust flavor. I’ll put a recipe card of my version at the end. 

What made the meal was a lovely cucumber salad (recipe at the end), which I’ll be making more often throughout the summer. I really enjoyed the cool, vinegary cucumbers together with the warming honey and hot pepper. A great match for the lime and fish sauce in the chicken. 

And the cherries, first of the season, were rewardingly luscious. 

If you look closely, you can see that Corrie had put a bowl of blue Jell-o on top of her head, and then, upon hearing that I would be needing to wash her hair, she crushed a bunch of soap into her scalp to wash up. That girl tries. 

THURSDAY
July 4th cookout!

Honestly, this is the best day of the year. As many cousins as possible come, and we have three times as much food as we need.

Here’s the leftover meat, after we all ate until we went insane:

I daringly ate my burger with pepper jack cheese, and jalapeños instead of pickles. 

It’s not a barbecue, though. I have finally learned that you can’t call it a barbecue unless you spend 172 hours smoking a brisket made of an entire herd of long-horned steer. If you call anything else a BBQ, the ghost of Sam Houston will appear and strangle you with a bolo tie. Me so sorry, me just dumb New Englander who not understand what meat is! All we had was hamburgers, hot dogs, beer brats, sugar rub chicken thighs, and mahogany clams, and it was just a cookout. We also had potato salad (recipe card at the end), an avalanche of chips, watermelon, all sorts of beverages and all sorts of desserts, and Clara made so many chocolate chip cookies that, if you stacked them all up on top of each other, they’d be enough for all the cousins. All the cousins, I say!

The potato salad turned out well. People who don’t usually eat it ate it (recipe card at the end).

As many people reassured me, the kids absolutely did not care that my patriotic layered Jell-o cups didn’t turn out like the picture on the internet. I also made frozen pudding and cream cups, and we had about a bushel of corn on the cob we completely forgot to roast, and ice cream we forgot to eat, and marshmallows we forgot to toast and another watermelon that I don’t even know what happened to it.

And the table top I classily made out of cardboard didn’t even collapse. 

I ate a ludicrous number of steamed clams drenched in butter, onions, white wine, and lemon juice, and then wallowed around in Dark and Stormies for a while (dark rum, ginger beer, ice, and fresh lime).

And it was perfect. A wading stream and a trampoline, sparklers and glow sticks, American flags and twinkling lights, guitars, hammocks, salamanders and bug spray, fireflies, tiki torches, cheap beer, and fireworks, and my beloved family. Everyone should be so lucky.

Here’s the whole gang:

FRIDAY
Leftovers, I do believe. 

Okay, gotta go drive people around for a bit, and I will come back with the recipe cards this afternoon! 

 

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
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic

Instructions

  1. Mix marinade ingredients together, then add sliced or quartered onions and 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 and onions out of the marinade and spread it in a single layer on the pan. 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.

Yogurt sauce

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

 

sesame lime chicken

Adapted from a NYT recipe. Serve with cucumber salad for a wonderful summer meal, with rice. 

Ingredients

  • 16 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or 8 breasts pounded thin)
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 6 inches fresh ginger peeled and grated
  • 12 garlic cloves crushed
  • 8 limes zested and juiced (you need both)
  • 1/4 cup peanut or sesame oil
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • diced chiles (optional)

Instructions

  1. Mix all sauce ingredients together and pour over chicken. Let marinate at least four hours. 

  2. Remove from marinade. Grill over coals or broil in oven, turning once. 

  3. Serve with cilantro garnish and chiles, if desired. 

 

spicy cucumber salad

A spicy, zippy side dish that you can make very quickly. 

Ingredients

  • 3-4 cucumbers, sliced thin (peeling not necessary)
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar or white vinegar
  • 1+ tsp honey
  • 1 tsp sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt

Optional:

red pepper, diced

  • 1/2 red onion diced

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients together. Serve immediately, or chill to serve later (but the longer you leave it, the softer the cukes will get)

potato salad

Ingredients

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

for dressing:

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

Instructions

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

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

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

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

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

Smoked chicken thighs with sugar rub

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

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

 

Grilled clams or mussels in wine sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 white or red onion
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • live clams or mussels
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 cups white wine
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Prepare sauce: Coarsely chop the onion and sautee it in the olive oil with the red pepper flakes. Add salt and pepper. 


  2. Add two sticks of butter and let them melt. Add the wine and lemon juice. 

  3. Light the fire and let it burn to coals. While it's burning down, sort and clean the shellfish, discarding any damaged or dead ones. (If they're open, tap them. If they don't close, they're dead. If they're closed, they're fine.)

  4. Lay shellfish on grill until they pop open. The hotter the fire, the shorter the time it will take - five minutes or more. 

  5. Add shellfish to sauce and stir to mix. 

This 4th of July, read the Gettysburg Address

My father usually reads the Declaration of Independence out loud when we get together on the Fourth of July.  We’ll do it again this year, if only to savor the beauty of the cadence of those words. 

It will be a happy day for the kids, full of sparklers and hot dogs and marshmallows, and it will be good to have everyone together again. I don’t want to muck up the fun with any heavy irony. But the Declaration doesn’t fall on my ears the way it used to. 

When I was young and listened to the Declaration of Independence, I used to feel pride and gratitude for our country, flaws and all; but now, when I think of what we have become, I am so mired in anger and dismay.  The “long train of abuses” that stirred the founding fathers into revolution are nothing, nothing at all, compared to the abuses the vulnerable suffer from our elected government now; and the people who cry “America!” the loudest let these abuses happen without a murmur, or heartily cheer them on.

We are still the freest country in the world, at least for some. We are still more or less at peace, at least within our borders, at least for some.  We do have a free press, at least for now. It’s not nothing, that our nation manages to transfer power peacefully every election.  Nobody dies when we throw out one bum and bring in the next.  But good grief, I’d like to see more than that.  I’d like to see that it’s still possible to bring about change using the system the founders designed, but the gears have become so clogged with money and lies, it barely functions When something good happens — when a decent, moderately virtuous candidate does appear, or a sensible bill gets passed, or a monstrous one is defeated, it’s almost like a fluke.  We’re the land of ten thousand monkeys, and the democratic process is a typewriter. And if you think I’m speaking about just one party, you’re willfully blind.  

Maybe a different document would be better to read. 

A few years ago, we passed the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. In this astonishingly compact speech, Lincoln looks back at our founding, and then he looks around at the rubble and the blood-soaked ground. 

And then he does something extraordinary:  he looks forward.  He says,

It  is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us —  that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for  which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve  that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall  have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people,  for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

He stood on the blood-soaked ground, and he looked forward.

Now we hear the words like “freedom” and “unity” coming out of the mouths of people who despise freedom, who put all of their effort into subverting unity, who see journalists as the enemy, who treat asylum seekers as criminals, who tell us we must violate our consciences in the name of patriotism, who welcome true enemies as logistical allies. And in response, we’re squandering our freedom of speech on petty name-calling, on projectile milkshakes, on melodramatic photo ops. I don’t want four more years of the gorgon, but I don’t know if I can bring myself to vote for one of these soulless, preening candidates just to chase him away. 

But Lincoln stood on blood-soaked ground and looked forward.

So I can’t hear the Declaration of Independence and feel pride in our country — not today.  But I can hear the Gettysburg Address and take courage.  I can see the struggle and grief of the nation, suffering now as it is, and I can look forward. 

If they could recover from that, then we can recover from this. 

Those of us who still love the Constitution are the living.  We’re the ones who understand that the country is not great, but it’s not over yet.  It is still, as Lincoln said, “unfinished work.”   

To the pro-lifers who refuse to be overcome by an obscene and hysterical mob, and who refuse to let the phrase “pro-life” be co-opted by racists and misogynists:  you are the living.  To the volunteers who knock on doors and mail flyers and work the phone banks to rally support for a candidate who can’t win but isn’t a monster:  you are the living.  To students who grind your eyeballs into your law books because you want to make things better, want to defend the innocent:  you are the living.  To those who see their government crushing the poor, and work doubly hard to build them up again: You are the living.  To teachers who day after day shrug off the pressing cultural gibberish because you know your children need to hear the truth; to citizen scholars who patiently call into radio shows and wade into battle on Facebook and Twitter, correcting and correcting and correcting the lies:  you are the living.

And to ordinary citizens who pray for our country every day — not because we’re on the side of God, but because God will come to our side if we beg — we are the living.

This country is unfinished work.  The battle isn’t over yet.

***
A version of this post ran in the Register in 2013

Image: from the book Gettysburg and Lincolnvia Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

Pro-life spotlight Vol. 8: “Our humanity doesn’t begin at birth, and it doesn’t end at the border.”

The border, the border, the border. It’s so heavy to think about. Children are, by definition, innocent. We are, by definition, obligated to help the innocent. There’s no “but we have to teach their parents a lesson” clause or “they should never have come” loophole or “my grandparents did it the right way” excuse note. Children are innocent. We are obligated to help the innocent. 

People are aching to give detained kids food and blankets, diapers, toys, and anything to make them feel like someone cares about them; but they are not accepting donations at detention centers. 

So you help where you can. When migrants are released from detainment, often after tireless legal intercession by groups like Immigrant Families Together, they are in desperate need. Respite centers, where migrants go when they are released, are accepting donations

New Wave Feminists, a secular pro-life group founded by the irrepressible Destiny Herndon De La Rosa, has organized a massive pro-life effort, with over fifty pro-life sponsors from across the political spectrum, to bring supplies and funds to the people on the ground ministering to people in dire need. 

“Our humanity doesn’t begin at birth, and it doesn’t end at the border,” it says on NWF’s donation page. They will pass all donations until July 13th along to help families at the border.

“We should be able to stand with the vulnerable wherever they are,” Herndon-De La Rosa said, “and that extends beyond the womb.”

They have reached the capacity of how many physical goods they can haul to respite centers, but they are still gratefully accepting donations, which they will pass along to two respite centers and a legal aid fund that works to reunite families by helping them through the legal system and posting their bails. 

***

Previous volumes of Pro-life Spotlight:

We Dignify

Gadbois mission trip to Bulgarian orphanage

Mary’s Shelter in VA

China Little Flower

Immigrant Families Together

Rio Grande Valley Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center

If you know or have worked with an organization that works to build a culture that cherishes human life, please drop me a line at simchafisher at gmail dot com with “pro-life spotlight” in the title.

 

What’s for supper? Vol. 176: Damien’s Amazing Interchangeable Cinderblock Meat Altar Situation

Oh Friday! I was whooping it up in Princeton, NJ for a big part of the week. Great trip, wonderful people, tiny airplane, glad to be home. Here’s what we ate this week:

SATURDAY
Chicken quesadillas, tortilla chips, guacamole

Corrie is always trying to get me to watch food videos with her, and I kept saying “not now.” So, as she says: “I like food videos, so I may as wewll make my own!” This video will make you feel better about the cleanliness of your food preparation area, about your efficiency with avocados, and most of all, about your Spanish. But it may make you wish you had a cooking companion and videographer like I have.

I don’t want to hear and kvetching about the vertical camera! She’s four!

For the quesadillas, I drizzled the chicken with olive oil and sprinkled on plenty of chili lime powder, then roasted it. I think I either left the house or went to lie down at this point, because I don’t remember making quesadillas, but I do remember eating some. 

And very good they are, quesadillas that somebody else made.

SUNDAY
Grilled chicken, bratwurst, pork ribs, and shrimp with mango salsa; chips and guacamole; strawberries and ice cream

Damien’s mom came by to watch Into the Spiderverse with the kids, and Damien smoked up a feast.

Now, here is where you may begin to notice a certain theme: Mandatory Meat vs. Optional Meat. I like meat? I really do. But I can imagine a happy life without it, unlike some husbands. I am most certainly not complaining! It just wouldn’t occur to me to cook a meal featuring four different meats; and it wouldn’t occur to him to go to a restaurant and not order meat. I guess between the two of us, we even out. As with so many other things. 

He used the same rub for the ribs as he does for the chicken, but for the ribs, he put some mustard on first, before smoking it. (I think he seared it on the grill and then moved it to a smoker? His ways are mysterious.)

He boiled the brats in beer and onions before grilling them. The shrimp, he marinated in lemon juice, olive oil, garlic powder, chili powder, and a little salt and pepper, and skewered them on skewers that had been soaked in water, then grilled them. 

So good. That chicken is so juicy and the skin is so crisp.

Have I told you about Damien’s Amazing Interchangeable Cinderblock Meat Altar Situation? He wanted a really big grill, but we don’t especially care for, you know, paying for things. We keep buying cheap grills and then leaving them out in the rain to rust, and that’s no good.

So he got a bunch of cinderblocks and built up this giant monolith for the base. Then he has an assortment of little blocks and chunks, grates of various sizes, chimneys, tongs, different charcoals and whatnot, and he just builds to suit, depending on how much fire he wants, how high the grate and how much air circulations, how many different fires he needs at the same time, and so on.

He does want one big grill to go over the whole thing, for when we have a lot of guests. And today is the day I found out he’s too much of a fancy man to even consider stealing a shopping cart. 

Anyway, the mango salsa was pretty tasty. I did say I was interested in mangos! So pretty, too. 

I do like the taste, but I’d probably buy them just for how the peels look. 

I’ll put a recipe card at the end. Oh, it’s so good to eat outside again! Even the plates are happy. 

Oh, mangoes have not seen the last of me. 

And I do believe Corrie is firmly in the “carnem et carnem solum” camp. 

MONDAY
Creamy lemon sausage pasta

I saw this recipe in the New York Times and it looked easy enough, and everybody likes lemon and cheese. But I figured I better get some meat in there, for the more carnal amongst us. I also tweaked the proportions so there was more sauce per pasta.

So, you just cook pasta, then cook up the sausage, then mix it together with ricotta and parmesan, lemon juice and lemon zest, salt and pepper, and some of the pasta water to thin it out, and stir all that into the cooked pasta, and put some fresh basil and red pepper flakes on top. 

It was good? It was almost good. It was not great. It was filling, and a little odd, but definitely cheap and easy. I would have liked to have the lemon and cheese filling in ravioli, probably; but as a sauce, and with the sausage, I was not entranced. I don’t know if it was the combination of sausage and lemon, or if this just wasn’t the dish for us. Oh well, onward and upward. 

TUESDAY

I was gone, wasn’t I! On Tuesday I did a Theology on Tap with the beautiful and indefatigable Kait Mayer, who also took me out to eat beforehand at Triumph Brewing, where I had . . . 

Well, look, now we’re back to the difference between me and Damien. I ordered the tempura mushroom banh mi, and I stand by it. The mushroom had a lovely, crisp coating, the bun was soft and giving, and the shredded vegetables were copious, flattered winsomely with a spicy mayo just as the gods ordained. It was delicious. 

WEDNESDAY

I had lunch at EFES Mediterranean Grill with my Aunt Joan and Uncle Lloyd. Lovely little place! Athough I wanted to want lamb dumplings or something along those lines, it was tremendously hot and humid, so I just ordered an appetizer, which was plenty. Homemade yogurt with spinach and walnuts with a basket of pita, and there were also little cups of sauce — something orange and very warming, and something minty and cooling. I got a very clear message that I need more mint in my life.

Then we did a mini-tour of Princeton campus, and then I mooched around the Princeton Art Museum. I only had time for the ancient art gallery, which was, as the kids say, extremely my jam. I posted a bunch of photos on Instagram. What a gorgeous place, and free admission. 

Then the gracious Claire Gmachl and the monsignor took me out for dinner at the Blue Point Grill, where I had arctic char and wild rice. I had to ask what arctic char is, since I am a bumpkin. It turns out it’s like salmon, but more salmony. And I fully expected to see a wiggly red line appear under “salmony” as I typed, but it turns out salmony is so a word. Then I thought maybe it was some obscure legal term, like simony, only more salmony. Oh, you want it in a sentence? Then how about The Sporting Review’s observation:

“This stream, which forms the Cascade de Con, abounds with a delicious little trout, the best flavoured and the most salmony I ever ate.”

Or perhaps this 1906 entry in Horticulture by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society will satisfy you:

“The color is pretty much the shade seen in Queen Alexandra, a salmony bronze, one of the kinds commonly called off-colors…”

This seems interesting to me. But I did not sleep a lot this week. I did go ahead and look up “arctic char” to see if the internet would rush to offer the information that it’s rather salmony, but all I learned was that its distribution is circumpolar. I feel that same way myself. 

After my talk, I got to hang out with Tom and Elizabeth McDonald, who are SO MUCH FUN. And I have a photo which I am currently saving in case I ever need to blackmail Tom. 

THURSDAY
Pizza

Damien insisted on making dinner while I lay down. Benny brought me dinner in bed:

Then they went to the beach while I lay down some more! I hope my current life isn’t the opposite of working out your purgatory on earth so you don’t have to do it after you die, because I feel like I’m racking up a lot of rewards that I haven’t quite earned.

FRIDAY

It says on the blackboard “giant choc chip pancake – eggs” and I don’t feel like I can argue with that, even though I’m sitting here smelling the pancakes they are making themselves for brunch. 

Coming up: our giant family July 4th cookout and mostly-legal fireworks display! We’ll be having, you guessed it, lots of kinds of meat, plus all the usual summer foods — potato salad, corn on the cob, watermelon, and a variety of refreshing beverages. What should we do for dessert? The kids want a cake in the shape of a flag, with red and blue berries, but I’m fairly anti-cake in the summer. I think we have done ice cream cups and a giant mountain of cookies in the past. That may be perfect; but I’d love to hear other ideas, too. Whatcha got?

Mango salsa

Good for shrimp, pork, chicken, or just tortilla chips

Ingredients

  • 6 mangoes, peeled, pitted, and diced
  • 1 med red onion, diced
  • 1 large jalapeño, minced
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, diced or sliced
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • chili powder to taste
  • lime juice to taste

Instructions

  1. That's it, dude.

Smoked chicken thighs with sugar rub

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

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

 

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. 

Love is never wasted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Busy little week for me! 

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

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

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

What’s for supper? Vol. 175: The rain it raineth every day

So, last time I did an AMA, and every time, a few people ask about how to get kids to eat better food and how to cook decent food when you have little kids. It is clearly a constant source of worry and frustration for so many parents; and oh how clearly I remember that worry and frustration. I remember reading about other moms who were always trying new and exciting recipes and serving side dishes that don’t come out of a greasy bag with a comical pig on the outside, and wondering what was wrong with me. 

So I just wanted to remind everyone:

I have two adult children and four teenagers living at home right now. They all help me cook, or help me with other stuff while I cook. My husband works from home, and he often helps me cook, or helps me with other stuff while I cook, or he cooks dinner outright. He even looks up recipes and shops for ingredients. 

I don’t have any babies, and am not massively sleep deprived; and I’m not nursing anyone, so I can regularly sit down and do a task from start to finish without a thousand interruptions. 

And even despite all these advantages, if I took a few weeks off writing about food, my routine would slide really quickly back into chicken nuggets and frozen peas, and I certainly wouldn’t be arranging it on the plate so it looks as pretty as possible. Part of the purpose of Friday food posts is to force me to try harder with food. It propels me to find new and interesting things to cook, so I don’t die of boredom or shame.

Just a little disclaimer, in case you needed it. Here is my explainer for why I refuse to worry about what my kids eat for dinner. In general, I firmly believe that if you’re keeping your family alive and no one has rickets or scurvy, it is perfectly okay to have other priorities besides making pretty plates and mixing up adventurous marinades. Sometimes, there are other things that are more important than interesting food, and you can’t make everything a priority. You just can’t. 

Okay, now on to the food! Which was decent this week, but not especially adventurous, except for Sunday. 

SATURDAY
Fish tacos

I get home pretty late on Saturdays from shopping (which takes 3+ hours and often includes confession, haircuts, shoe shopping, etc.), so it has to be something fast, but I’m awfully tired of serving grilled ham and cheese or hamburgers on Saturdays. Fish tacos is fast, as long as you use frozen fish and don’t get too fancy with salsas and slaws and whatnot. 

Looks like I forgot a picture, but mine had sour cream, salsa, avocado, shredded cabbage, and fresh lime juice on a tortilla with batter fried fish of some kind. Please don’t ask if I got scrod. That information is private, and open only to subscribers.

I heard this thing on the radio about mango salsa, and I forgot all about mango salsa. ‘Tis the season, isn’t it! I think next week will be mango week. Just not on Saturday.

SUNDAY
Fadder’s Day cookout!

My own fadder was out of town visiting other family members, so we had a nice quiet day at home. By which I mean Benny had a fever, so Damien got up and went to the early Mass so he could stay home with the little guys while I took the others to a later Mass, because Elijah was serving. Hey, it was better than the father’s day he spent scrubbing poop out of the mesh sides of a port-a-crib. We did have a nice little brunch.

For dinner, one of the kids bought two enormous steaks for Damien and me — one a sirloin, and one a flank steak, which we’ve never had before.  Damien made a rub for the sirloin out of kosher salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, and a little chili powder.

So, flank steak is lean and somewhat tough, so it needs marinating, but it has an extraordinary flavor. After it marinated several hours in olive oil, soy sauce, lemon juice, and brown sugar, he seasoned it with kosher salt and pepper, then he seared both steaks on the grill in the rain. I don’t know if rain was a necessary ingredient, but it always seems to be present on grilling days. 

The sirloin was great. The flank steak was out of this world. The texture was startling to me — very lean and fibrous, but you cut it across the grain thinly and it has a very intense flavor I can only describe as . . . meaty. I know that’s not helpful, but it’s like ever-so-much-more-so beef.  This is not a great photo, but you can see the texture:

We also had little rolls, guacamole and chips, and strawberries and cream on angel food cake. 

The guac turned out okay (recipe card at end), although the store had put up a sign that said “avocados ripe today!” but really, agreed the lady in the store and I as we sorted and squeezed, they meant “avocados ripe yesterday;” so it was a little mushier than I like it.

The strawberries and cream were just as one would hope. Lightly mashed strawberries with a little sugar, freshly whipped cream with a little sugar, and store bought angel food cake.

Moe gave Damien some good chocolate and a gift card for a cigar shop, but he wrapped it in a “live animal” box from Petco. Because if you can’t almost give your father a heart attack, is it even really father’s day?

Also on this day, Corrie helped herself to no one knows how many chocolate-covered espresso beans, so it was ever-so-much-more-so Corrie until pretty late at night. 

Oh, to make the day even more special, we rearranged the living room so we could settle the piano in.

Did I tell you I bought a piano? I know you’re supposed to never pay for a piano, but what if it’s a nice lady raising money for Kiwanis and she delivers, eh? We still had to rent ramps and Damien still hurt his back (this was last week), but it’s a lovely little instrument in good condition, and it fits into our miniature living room, which is close to miraculous. I bought the Bastien book for Older Beginners, and I finished the first unit last night. I’m excited! There’s life in the old dame yet.

MONDAY
Bagel sandwiches

There was also tons of leftover steak, so, for duty and humanity, I had cold flank steak over baby spinach for lunch. 

For supper, we had bagel sandwiches with sausage, egg, and cheese. 

A cozy little meal for, you guessed it, a rainy day.

TUESDAY
Berry chicken salad

Just a great summer dish, and good for those days when everyone comes home to eat at different times.

Chicken breast roasted in the oven with olive oil and lemon pepper seasoning, and then cooled and sliced; mixed greens, strawberries and blueberries, feta cheese, and toasted almonds. 

I bought some kind of fancy pants berry vinaigrette, which disappeared long before Tuesday. No one ate it; it just disappeared. So I had balsamic vinegar, which was fine. I hope balsamic vinegar is good for you, because I have it on everything. 

WEDNESDAY
Hot dogs, chips

Last day of school! It was a half day and then the school has an unofficial final field trip to the local beach. I spent most of the time standing on the shore, thinking about how much easier life is now that the kids are older, and I don’t have to freak out and panic the entire time they’re in the water.

Then we got home and, my voice hoarse after shouting, “Corrie, come back, that’s deep enough! Corrie, come back, that’s deep enough! Corrie, I said COME BACK NOW!!!!” forty-six thousand times, I collapsed. Actually, come to think of it, it’s fricking exhausting to be at the beach with kids, even if they are older. It would have been easier if I had gone in the water with them, but my body positivity project hasn’t gotten up to the chapter where you’re okay with taking off your clothes in front of all the other parents. 

Then we came home and had hot dogs and chips. Actually Damien made them. I was too busy still collapsing hoarsely. 

THURSDAY
Pulled pork sandwiches, curly fries, coleslaw

We haven’t had pulled pork for a while. I meant to start it in the slow cooker early in the morning, since the cut I had was not the most tender. I forget what I had, but it’s the kind you get from Aldi all cryogenically wrapped so it looks like a Sandworm.

But suddenly it was afternoon. So I hacked in half and chunked it in the Instant Pot, had Corrie dump in a can of Coke, and, after a fruitless search for some kind of pepper or whatnot, I just sealed up the lid and pressed the “meat” button. When it beeped, I shouted at someone to press the “meat” button again. Close to dinner, I got a “burn” message, because I didn’t put it enough liquid. I opened it up and it looked awful. The liquid was all gone, and there was this dark sludge on the bottom. I nervously pulled the meat out with tongs and sniffed it. Okay, not actually burnt, but surely it will be tough as leather.

Dude, it was perfect. It fell apart with the mere thought of a fork. I scraped up all the sludge from the bottom, and dumped in a bottle of Carolina BBQ sauce, and it was moist, tender, and delicious. 

So remember: Dump, meat, meat, burn, sludge, scrape, glug. That’s my recipe, and I’m sticking to it.

I also made some quick coleslaw with cabbage, carrot, mayo, vinegar, sugar, and pepper, and we had seasoned curly fries, and I ate outside in the rain, which was just a little rain.

FRIDAY
Mac and cheese, string beans

I’ve been avoiding these string beans all week, but I think the time has come. Dora brought me home a treasure trove of cheese ends from the deli. Some of that cheese has speckles in it. Speckles! And it’s barely even raining today. 

***

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. 

In which I answer anything, vol. 4

Off we go!

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

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

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

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

What is the strangest game your toddlers have played?

I’m torn between Puppy Sacrifice and Scissor Toss.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the greatest city in the world?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your favorite movie?

Roadhouse. It’s my regular Saturday night thing.

Is this Simcha’s kids posting on her behalf?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Is this 3?

Sure?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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