This year, keep the Lent in VaLENTine’s Day

Ash Wednesday is just a week a way! Valentine’s Day is just a week a way! WHAT TO DO?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

What’s for supper? Vol. 73: Detachment à la mode con Fleischenttäuschung con Dan Brown

First, a reminder! If you subscribed more than a few weeks ago, I’m afraid your subscription no longer works! I’m so sorry. You’ll need to resubscribe using the form on the right sidebar.

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Okay, I think that’s all the blog business, except a reminder that the weekly podcast went out last night. It’s password protected for subscribers only. To subscribe, pledge $1 a more through Patreon. I know, I know, it’s kind of involved, but once you get it set up, it’s easy peasy. I do the podcast with my husband, and it’s fun and stupid and drinky, and often has sound effects, offensive jokes, and poetry, all for less than 25 cents a week. WHAT A DEAL.

***

Now for the food.

This week’s food post has no food photos.
Holy reason: It’s Lent, and tempting images of food would not be in keeping with the spirit of the liturgical season.
Real reason: Can’t find my iPad. Instead, please enjoy this photo of Dan Brown being allowed to be in front of a microphone that is turned on. That should be suitably penitential.

And we’re off!

SATURDAY
Sliced ham, fried eggs, raw peppers

Because Jesus is coming, ham is on sale, so I bought a big ‘un. Here is my genius idea: You slice it up first, early in the day, and put it in a pan with a little water and cover it with tinfoil. Then you can throw it in the oven and heat it up quickly before dinner. I fried up a few dozen eggs and sliced up about a bushel of red, yellow, orange, and green peppers.

We still had my nephew and three nieces on Saturday, and this dinner was a big hit with all the kids. Very bright and pretty.

I rate this meal zero Dan Browns, because it was easy, cheap, and well-received. Not penitential at all.

***

SUNDAY
Bò Kho (Vietnamese Beef Stew), French bread and butter

The big disappointment of the week. On the penitential food scale, it rates a full three Dan Browns, which is not good.

This Instant Pot recipe from Nom Nom Paleo calls for all kinds of thrilling ingredients. Lemongrass! Curry powder! Fresh ginger! Star Anise! Fish sauce! I followed the directions pretty closely for once, and it smelled wonderful. But the taste was harsh and metallic, yet boring. I just didn’t like it at all. It was like regular old ‘Murkin beef stew, except angrier. What a waste of meat. I felt overwhelming Fleischenttäuschung

Happily, we also celebrated Corrie’s birthday on Sunday. We had chocolate cake (box mix) and cream cheese frosting using this recipe, except I used about half the sugar they called for.  I made a heart-shaped cake, frosted it yellow, and pushed fancy jelly beans into the frosting all around the edge. Then we remembered a pack of little candy hatchets with blood on the blades that I got on clearance after Halloween. They seemed about right for Mama’s widdle axe murderer, so we stuck those in, too.

Suddenly becoming the other kind of two-year-old, she ran away and hid in her crib when we brought the cake out. You guys. It is so hard being two.

***

MONDAY
Hot dogs, baked beans

Nothing to report, nothing to regret. No Dan Browns, because we like hot dogs.

***

TUESDAY
Carnitas with guacamole and chips; hot fudge and butterscotch ice cream sundaes

Taco Tuesday was, of course, Fat Tuesday or Carnevale, which literally means “farewell to meat,” so I thought carnitas make a good send-off. And they were good. I’ve made pork carnitas a few times, but it somehow escaped me until now that you are supposed to fry the meat after slow cooking it; and then you douse it with its own oniony gravy while you fry it. So carnal.

This meal gets half a Dan Brown, only because the salsa turned out to have fermented, and not in the good way.

Sorry you got the half with most of his chin in it.

I used this Instant Pot carnitas recipe from Paint the Kitchen Red. This is a good site if you’re new to the Instant Pot. It really walks you through each step, with copious photos of the Instant Pot buttons and screen, and it warns you how long everything will take. Tasty meat, too.

Now I’m really suffering. I took such gorgeous pictures of that guacamole. There is no more attractive kitchen rubble than guacamole rubble, n’est pas? The shining avocado pits, the papery garlic skins, the feathery cilantro, the gleaming limes. OH WELL. I hope all the souls in purgatory appreciate what I’m going through.

***

ASH WEDNESDAY
Spaghetti, bread and butter, salad

Spaghetti from a box with sauce from a jar with bread from a bag and salad from a pouch never tasted so good. No D.B. at all.

***

THURSDAY
Broiled chicken breast, salad with croutons, pinkaroni salad

I made a marinade of olive oil, lime juice, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and basil. Not terribly coherent, but it tasted okay. You let it marinate for a couple of hours and then slide it under the broiler, turning once. Slice it up and serve it over salad for a Meal of Great Virtue.

I used up the old hamburger buns for croutons. These are so good if you don’t burn them, which I did. Cube the bread, drizzle it with melted butter or olive oil, and then toss them with whatever seasonings you like. I just grabbed some adobo powder, which was fine, if a bit too salty. Then you put them in a shallow pan in a 300-degree oven for forty minutes or so, stirring them up occasionally, until they are toasted all the way through. You can make a ton at a time and store them in an airtight container for a long time. Or, you can just burn them and then eat them all up.

There wasn’t as much green salad as I thought, so I made some macaroni salad, more or less following this recipe. But instead of peppers, I used chopped beets, which turned the mayonnaise dressing pink, which delighted the kids.   Two Dan Browns for the burnt croutons and some expired Thousand Island dressing.

***

FRIDAY               
Fish sticks, chips, broccoli(?)

Current mood:


If you find my iPad, please tell me. Thanks.

Making ashes out of you and me

What a shame that Ash Wednesday comes but once a year. For many of us, that’s the only opportunity we have to experience what many people consider the lyrical poet Thomas Conry’s masterwork. Let’s take a closer look.

The first lines are something of a ruse, are they not? Listen:

We rise again from ashes,
from the good we’ve failed to do.
We rise again from ashes,
to create ourselves anew.
If all our world is ashes,
then must our lives be true,
an offering of ashes, an offering to you.

We are lulled by the conventional rhyme scheme, ABABABB, into expecting that the theme will be conventional, as well.  The speaker cannily completes the rhyme by using the same word, “ashes,” three times, as if to signal, “Nothing new here, no  particular reason to pay attention.” Even the finial sounds of the words, “ashes,” “do,” “ashes,” “anew,” and once again “ashes,” followed by “true” and “you” — do you hear it?  the “sh” followed by “oo” . . . it almost sounds like the soft, untroubled breath of a sleeper. “Shh . . .ooo.”  Our narrator appears almost to be snoring, does he not? He is deliberately lulling us to sleep.

But a surprise awaits us in the second stanza.

We offer you our failures,
we offer you attempts,
the gifts not fully given,
the dreams not fully dreamt.
Give our stumblings direction,
give our visions wider view,
an offering of ashes, an offering to you.

Gone are the soft sibilants of the previous lines, and instead, we are confronted with deliberately jarring plosives (/b/ /p/ /t/ /d/) in  “Gifts not fully given, / … dreams not fully dreamt.” Not fully, indeed.  The very percussive violence of the sound is a statement:  the speaker has awoken, and he is in distress, perhaps stuttering and spluttering like a confused patient who was supposed to be etherised upon a table, but they ran out of ether. “Give our stumblings direction,” he haltingly pleads – but then subsides again into the inarticulate vagueness, perhaps experiencing a swollen tongue:  “give our visions wider view,” he mouths with a wagging jaw, in an achingly poignant parody of the semi-conscious man struggling to make sense of a world where significance seems always to be verging on the horizon.

Notice that in this second stanza, the rhyme scheme has subtly shifted from the pedestrian ABABABB to the chaotic and freewheeling ABCBDEE. This indicates that the speaker is confused.

The third stanza seems to find the speaker in a contemplative mood, lapsing again into what appears, at first, to be conventional, even clichéd imagery:  rising from ashes, sunshine turning to rain, and so on:

Then rise again from ashes,
let healing come to pain,
though spring has turned to winter,
and sunshine turned to rain.
The rain we’ll use for growing,
and create the world anew
from an offering of ashes, an offering to you.

But what are we to make of those troublesome conjunctions “then” and “though”? They can’t merely be metric placeholders, can they, with no intrinsic significance?  Don’t you believe it. Every syllable in this concise little jewel of a work is freighted with meaning. Some of the meaning is so subtle, it would wither under the strong light of scrutiny, much like a seedling which is brought to light in the springtime which, in an unprecedented meteorological event possible only in poetry, turns to winter, and then is sunny, and then rainy, and then becomes ashes, or possibly used to be ashes. Delicate seedlings just can’t take that kind of abuse; and so it is with conjunctions in the hands of the poet Conry. Exquisite.

And now the tour de force:  the final stanza.  Here we discover at last the full blown expression of the hints and murmuring suggestions sprinkled like so many ashes throughout the rest of the poem.  The speaker proclaims in triumph:

Thanks be to the Father,
who made us like himself.
Thanks be to his Son,
who saved us by his death.
Thanks be to the Spirit
who creates the world anew
from an offering of ashes, an offering to you.

Do you see?  Do you see?  It was the ashes all along. Ashes!

***
This essay originally ran in the National Catholic Register at some point, I forget when
photo credit: mkorsakov Asche via photopin (license)

Making ashes out of you and me

RELIGION_PLAYS_AN_IMPORTANT_PART_IN_THE_LIVES_OF_RESIDENTS._THE_LARGEST_GROUP_OF_CHURCHGOERS_ARE_ROMAN_CATHOLICS._A..._-_NARA_-_558387

What a shame that Ash Wednesday comes but once a year. For many of us, that’s the only opportunity we have to experience what many people consider the lyrical poet Thomas Conry’s masterwork. Let’s take a closer look.

The first lines are something of a ruse, are they not? Listen:

We rise again from ashes,
from the good we’ve failed to do.
We rise again from ashes,
to create ourselves anew.
If all our world is ashes,
then must our lives be true,
an offering of ashes, an offering to you.

We are lulled by the conventional rhyme scheme, ABABABB, into expecting that the theme will be conventional, as well.  The speaker cannily completes the rhyme by using the same word, “ashes,” three times, as if to signal, “Nothing new here, no  particular reason to pay attention.” Even the finial sounds of the words, “ashes,” “do,” “ashes,” “anew,” and once again “ashes,” followed by “true” and “you” — do you hear it?  the “sh” followed by “oo” . . . it almost sounds like the soft, untroubled breath of a sleeper. “Shh . . .ooo.”  Our narrator appears almost to be snoring, does he not? He is deliberately lulling us to sleep.

But a surprise awaits us in the second stanza.

We offer you our failures,
we offer you attempts,
the gifts not fully given,
the dreams not fully dreamt.
Give our stumblings direction,
give our visions wider view,
an offering of ashes, an offering to you.

Gone are the soft sibilants of the previous lines, and instead, we are confronted with deliberately jarring plosives (/b/ /p/ /t/ /d/) in  “Gifts not fully given, / … dreams not fully dreamt.” Not fully, indeed.  The very percussive violence of the sound is a statement:  the speaker has awoken, and he is in distress, perhaps stuttering and spluttering like a confused patient who was supposed to be etherised upon a table, but they ran out of ether. “Give our stumblings direction,” he haltingly pleads – but then subsides again into the inarticulate vagueness, perhaps experiencing a swollen tongue:  “give our visions wider view,” he mouths with a wagging jaw, in an achingly poignant parody of the semi-conscious man struggling to make sense of a world where significance seems always to be verging on the horizon.

Notice that in this second stanza, the rhyme scheme has sutbly shifted from the pedestrian ABABABB to the chaotic and freewheeling ABCBDEE. This indicates that the speaker is confused.

The third stanza seems to find the speaker in a contemplative mood, lapsing again into what appears, at first, to be conventional, even clichéd imagery:  rising from ashes, sunshine turning to rain, and so on:

Then rise again from ashes,
let healing come to pain,
though spring has turned to winter,
and sunshine turned to rain.
The rain we’ll use for growing,
and create the world anew
from an offering of ashes, an offering to you.

But what are we to make of those troublesom conjunctions “then” and “though”? They can’t merely be metric placeholders, can they, with no intrinsic significance?  Don’t believe it. Every syllable in this concise little jewel of a work is freighted with meaning. Some of the meaning is so subtle, it would wither under the strong light of scrutiny, much like a seedling which is brought to light in the springtime which, in an unprecedented meteorological event possible only in poetry, turns to winter, and then is sunny, and then rainy, and then becomes ashes, or possibly used to be ashes. Delicate seedlings just can’t take that kind of abuse; and so it is with conjunctions in the hands of the poet Conry. Exquisite.

And now the tour de force:  the final stanza.  Here we discover at last the full blown expression of the hints and murmuring suggestions sprinkled like so many ashes throughout the rest of the poem.  The speaker proclaims in triumph:

Thanks be to the Father,
who made us like himself.
Thanks be to his Son,
who saved us by his death.
Thanks be to the Spirit
who creates the world anew
from an offering of ashes, an offering to you.

Do you see?  Do you see?  It was the ashes all along. Ashes!
***

At the Register: Making Ashes Out of You and Me

This is the best thing I have ever written in my entire life.