How I plan my weekly menu and shop! In excruciating detail!

Many people said they would like a post about how I plan my meals and how I shop. I don’t have any amazing tricks or methods. You could sum up my system in three steps: Plan ahead, pay close attention, and be flexible. And everybody already knows that! But I said I would write it, so here we go. 

(IT’S FREAKING LONG.)

The planning part is horrible and I hate it. I started planning my weekly menu back when we were flat broke, like we had $22 for the week and I was rationing apples and serving oatmeal onion soup, and I had to watch every penny. It turned out to be an incredibly useful habit, though. Making a detailed menu and shopping for exactly what I need is a weekly investment that makes life easier every single day. 

The cost of food varies very widely by region, but I know you’re curious, so here you go: I spent about $360 on food this week. There are ten people (including five adults) living in our house full time, two working from home, and we currently do not get SNAP or WIC or free school lunch or anything, so that works out to $5.14 per person per day (and the adult kids do buy themselves lunch sometimes). 

I do not cut our costs to the bone. I buy treats and convenience foods and lots of little things to make our meals nicer, because we can afford it right now, and it’s something we enjoy. But I have made adjustments to compensate for inflation, so I’m not spending much more than I was a few years ago.

I shop once a week, but I usually end up stopping at the store once or twice because I’ve forgotten something. I keep the house stocked with staples, and I replenish those even if I don’t expect to use them during the week. But I only shop for one week of perishables. I would love to stock up on meat when there’s a good deal, there is nowhere in the house that I could possibly fit an extra freezer. We also don’t have a Costco or any other bulk warehouse retailer in driving distance.

I do not mess around with coupons or rebates or points. I have found that coupons are rarely worth it, and I like knowing how much money I have to spend for the week, and when it’s gone, it’s gone.

I plan to go to at least two supermarkets, because Aldi is wonderful, except sometimes they’re like, “Oops, no bread”; and also some of their products are cheap but terrible, like their bananas that go from green to brown, or their Asian food that tastes like baked beans. So I always assume there will be a second stop. 

I honestly don’t know if any of this will be useful or tedious or stupid or what, but people did ask, so here is how I do it. 

The actual menu planning

On Saturday morning, I write out the days of the week along the left edge of my shopping list. I like to plan my menu right on my list so I can see what the hell is going on, and make adjustments and additions as I shop.

Next stop: Check my calendar and note down time and energy gobblers for the week. This includes things that will take me out of the house (dentist appointment or a kid’s concert) and also things that might exhaust me physically or mentally (intense telehealth therapy meeting), or even “Friday is the day before a party and I’m going to be stressed out and wanting to focus on cleaning.” I just take a look at what the day will actually look like for me, and be reasonable about what kind of cooking can happen on such a day. I write these things in on my menu to make it real for me.

I also note holidays and feast days that might warrant an extra dessert or a particular ethnicity of meal, but I’m not Little Miss Liturgical Living, and this either happens or it doesn’t. Also, if it’s a birthday, the person gets to choose what’s for dinner.

Then I write the names of the stores I plan to go to on the list, open the online flyers of those stores, and note down “anchor foods” that are an especially good price (mostly meat, but also cheese, fruits, and vegetables). I include the price to remind me of what the sale price actually is, in case they try and pull a fast one (yes, I will argue with the store), and so I can scoop up unexpected bargains they didn’t advertise. Sometimes the flyer in one store brags about blueberries for $2.50 a pint, and then the other store has them for $1.99 and doesn’t think to mention it. So it’s good to know that, if I happen to go to the $1.99 store first. I skim through the whole flyer, because sometimes I get ideas for meals from the photos, even if I don’t intend to buy the foods advertised. Like, “oh yeah, soup! I forgot people make soup” or “hey, we haven’t had a vegetable and dip platter for a while” or whatever. 

I also check the preview for next week, and if there’s a great deal coming up, like chuck roast for $2.69 a pound, I’ll plan a meal around that, and plan to stop by after Mass. I put “buy roast” or whatever in my calendar right then so I don’t forget. 

Then I check my bank account, to see how much money we actually have! I usually spend about the same amount of money, give or take $40 or so, but there are some weeks when I’m like, “oh crap, we need to reel this in.”

So now I have an idea in my mind if the overarching theme of this week is going to be “as easy as possible” or “as cheap as possible” or “I’m actually going to be home for once; let’s have some fun in the kitchen” (remember, I like cooking, so it’s fun for me when I have some time to mess around) or maybe “we have all been subsisting on brown things cooked in grease for several weeks, so maybe we can remember vegetables” or whatever. Or sometimes (I don’t think they realize I do this), when someone in the family is feeling low, I will plan a run of their favorite meals to give them a little lift. 
No matter what the theme is, I have some basic rules that I follow, unless we’re really flat out. 

The rules

Don’t make anything more than twice a month; ideally, no more than once a month. This is as much for my benefit as it is for the whole family’s, because if I make a popular meal too often, they’ll stop eating it, and then I’m screwed. 

Shoot for one new recipe per week. This one gets overridden pretty often, but I do make a stab at it, because I get bored easily, and frankly, making public posts about what we ate is a big motivator to keep things interesting.  (Things like substituting fresh squash for canned pumpkin in the muffins totally counts as “new.”) I subscribe to a number of food and cooking sites and social media groups (I’ll list those at the end), and I listen to a few food radio shows, and if something looks promising, I email it to myself with the heading “food blog” so it’s easy to find. Damien sometimes sends me recipes that sound good, too, either for him or for me to make. So all week long, I’m on the lookout for new ideas. Sometimes if something unusual is on sale or in season at the supermarket, I will grab it with the intention of finding a recipe when I get home. This week, I picked up some radishes that I didn’t have a specific plan for, other than to match the with one of the two Asian meals I was planning.  

Shoot for variety of type of meal throughout the week. So pasta, soup, casserole, breakfast are all one-timers. Sandwiches or wraps, Mexican food, Asian food, and Middle Eastern food, I can probably get away with doing twice a week, but not three times. 

Shoot for a variety of easy and hard meals throughout the week, so I can swap things around if unpredictable things happen. There is no penalty for leaving a planned meal in the freezer for another week and buying Aldi pizza on the way home from school, if we can afford it and that’s the way the day is shaping up. 

Finally, I skim the entire week and see if I remembered to serve vegetables. Yes, I actually do this. I don’t really try to serve a balanced meal every day, but I do aim for a balanced week, if you squint, and I try to get some vegetables in there at least three or four times. 

One more thing: While I’m meal planning, Damien sometimes comes by and takes a look, and either volunteers to make one or more of the meals I’ve planned, or else he volunteers to come up with a meal to fill in one or more blank spaces. 

How an actual week got planned: 

I wrote “dentist” and “S band” on Tuesday, and Sunday was Lunar New Year and I wanted to go to a festival, but those were the only unusual things. So I knew there would be at least two days I would want to have something easy. 

There weren’t any very inspiring sales. Bone-in pork butt for I think $1.69 a pound, which is good, but I’m pretty tired of it, and the bone makes it hard to judge how much meat you’re getting; drumsticks for 99 cents, which I just made and people didn’t eat very much of; whole chicken for 99 cents, which I despise, and that’s about it. Boo. Nothing great next week, either. 

The first thing I did was write in “pizza” on Friday. Pizza can be either a meatless Friday meal or a meat meal, but people have been a little grumpy about my Friday meals lately, and I wanted to make something I knew everyone would like. We’ve had a lot of pizza lately, but we’re still on the right side of that line. One meal. 

I was getting a late start shopping because a lot of people needed rides, so I needed a quick, easy meal for Saturday; but we’ve had a lot of frozen chicken burgers and hot dogs lately. Also I knew Damien was taking the kids sledding while I was shopping, and the would work up a big appetite, so I figured they’d welcome pasta with sauce and sausage, which cooks up quick, is relatively cheap since not everybody likes sausage, and is great for cold, tired people.  So that’s two meals. 

Sunday was the Lunar New Year festival. They were going to have some food there, so maybe people would fill up and not be hungry for dinner, but hmm, I couldn’t count on the kids eating a lot of unfamiliar Asian food, so I figured hamburgers would be a safe choice. I could make them quickly when I got home, and everyone likes them, so if people are crabby after an outing, which sometimes happens: yay, hamburgers! Three meals. 

Four spots left. I had to face the cheap meats. I really despise cooking whole chickens, but I’ve avoided it for months, and it’s a great price, so I bit the bullet and wrote that down for one day. I knew we had some potatoes in the house, and I wrote “veg,” figuring I’d see what there was that looked decent. If I had been home, I would have looked up a recipe, like that nice one with fennel, but I was making my list in the parking lot for various complicated reasons, so I didn’t have the chance to check my supplies, and ended up having to find a recipe that matched what I happened to have (half a head of garlic, some rather dejected lemons, and a bit of rosemary), rather than vice versa. That’s four meals. 

The other really cheap meat was the bone-in pork butt. Good choices would be pulled pork or carnitas or chili verde, but we’ve had all of these a lot lately. So I did what I often do: I did an image search for “simcha fisher pork” and remembered about gochujang bulgoki. Yes! So that goes on the list. Too spicy for some kids, but I serve it with nori and rice and maybe a pineapple and they can eat that. (My original thought was actually that we’d have an Asian dinner on Lunar New Year, but I considered my audience and decided not to push my luck.) Five meals. 

Pork is really cheap, though, so I try hard to think of a second thing. But I’m going to be busy on Tuesday, in the morning and in the evening. Aha! Bo ssam. All you have to do get it going with salt and sugar the night before, and pop it in the oven by noon, and it’s done by dinner. Six meals. 

So this illustrates one of my big meal planning revelations: There are different kinds of quick and easy meals, and they all have drawbacks and advantages.

There is the kind where you open a box and throw the food on a pan and heat it up, which really is quick and easy, but it’s expensive for a big family. Sometimes that’s the right way to work the equation, though. My time is worth something! I don’t always have to immolate myself on the pyre of dinner. 

Then there is the kind where you assemble it quickly and cook it right before dinner time, like a stir fry or breakfast for dinner or sandwiches. These are often quick if you have a few people to feed, because the individual portions come together quickly; but they can end up taking forever to fix for a big family, especially if all your burners don’t work, which they never all do. 

Then there is the kind of quick meals that you do a moderate or large amount of prep work for, but it’s mostly just prep work, and by dinner time, it’s just a matter of opening the oven and enjoying it. This is what bo ssam is, and also many other favorites, like shawarma. 

I am at a time in my life right now where the third variety of “easy” is by far the easiest on me, and it often ends up being a cheaper option, too, because a lot of stinko cuts of meat get tenderized with long cooking or marinating times. Spending a lot of money and eating mediocre food too often is stressful for me. It makes me feel bad, and doesn’t feel good; it just feels yucky. And my mental state is a big part of this equation.

So I’ve discovered that for me, figuring things out and doing things ahead of time gives me lots of peace of mind, which is energizing in its own way. I can do the prep work when I have time and strength, which is often in the morning or late at night, and I get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing a decent meal come together at the end of a busy day, because I planned it well.

This has a lot to do with the fact that I enjoy cooking, I’m home a lot during the day, and I don’t have little kids! None of this is a moral issue. It’s just where I’m at right now, and who I am. I’m just telling you this because people often say to me, “Oh, you make such elaborate meals. I don’t go to that much trouble for my family,” and I often feel like I’m giving people the wrong idea about what they should be doing. When I had a bunch of little kids and less time and money, we had a lot more hot dogs and blah chicken, believe me. 

So I guess to “Plan ahead, pay close attention, and be flexible” I would add “know yourself.” Be realistic about your state in life and your actual strengths and your actual responsibilities, and work within that framework, not someone else’s framework. Not your mother’s, not your sister’s, not some blogger’s curated version of reality. If people you’re responsible for aren’t going hungry, you’re doing fine. 

So, back to my menu! I had the weekend figured out (pasta and burgers), and also Friday (pizza), plus three weekdays (roast chicken, bulgoki, and bo ssam), including a busy day. That just left one day to fill in. I was still pouting about having to roast some chickens, so I decided to make soup, which is something I like. I thought back over all the soups we’ve had so far this winter, and the only one I could think of that we haven’t had yet is tomato bisque. I had noted that bacon is $3.99, so I could add that in pretty cheaply and maybe make the soup more attractive. Add some sandwiches and, boom, that’s dinner. Seven dinners! A whole week!

After I have written in the main courses, I cross out the good price items I decided not to use, and note that I will need two hunks of pork. Then I look at each meal and make sure I have all the ingredients I will need to make it, and if not, I write them down on the list under the correct store name. I visualize every bit of the meal, and I look up the recipes I don’t know by heart, because I often forget important ingredients. 

Then I go through and see what can be the side dishes for everything. I write in “chips” with the hamburgers, “veg” with the chicken (to be determined; turns out to be squash, because I didn’t feel like dealing with sad old potatoes); rice for both the bulgoki and bo ssam, so I wrote in “rice” at the expensive supermarket, because Aldi rice cooks up chompy; sourdough bread and extra cheese for the sandwiches; make sure we have mayo to fry it in, and tomatoes and rosemary for the bisque; and I grabbed a pineapple and some radishes and lettuce and nori, which could go with either Asian meal. 

Then (assuming I am home), I walk around the house and check to see what else we are out of or low on, and add in those items; then I look at my blackboard and see what unintelligible nonsense people have scratched onto it throughout the week, make my best guess, and add those items in. There are things I buy every week, like seltzer and milk and coffee, and I don’t bother writing those down. 

I do the Walmart shopping (for non-food items) at the same time, so I also walk around and figure out what we need from there, and write that in its own column. And then it’s time to go!

But first I take a photo of my list! Because I lose it about 30% of the time! But I only lose my phone about 10% of the time, so it’s helpful to have a photo. 

The actual shopping

I do the Walmart shopping first, so the perishable foods don’t sit in my car for long (yeah, it’s winter, but a habit’s a habit). We don’t have a Walmart grocery, so their food items are fairly limited; but I usually grab one or two school lunch items that I know are cheaper than they will be at the supermarket, like Valentine fruit snacks or little bags of Halloween pretzels, and also fancy cereal on clearance or whatever. Basically I know the price of everything at all times and am constantly comparing it in my head and making ten thousand decisions for three hours straight every Saturday. This is just a thing that happened to me, and I don’t know if it’s something you can learn if it doesn’t come naturally because of how your life is, but it’s the main component to my budgeting. 

When I’m done with Walmart, I reward myself with a Wendy’s salad. This is my one weekly meal out, and it is not part of the food budget, so if you’re wondering how I itemize this kind of thing, it’s by fluttering my hands and saying “Oh no, I bought myself a salad, lock me up!” 

Next is the Aldi shopping. I try to buy things in season, especially fruit, because they taste better, they’re cheaper, and it just makes life more piquant not to have all the things all the time. I also try to vary what I buy so the kids don’t get too bored. I will buy bananas three weeks in a row, then take two weeks off, to build up a little banana excitement. One week, pretzels rods; next week, pub style pretzels; next week, those weird flat pretzel cracker things. It’s a real whirlwind around here. 

I noticed that Aldi bacon was an unadvertised $3.69 pound, which was better than the sale price I had noted down for the other store. Score! I know it’s only forty cents, but this is the game I play. It was the same with a three-pound bag of oranges. Forty cents here, sixty cents there. Like I said, I’m not spending more than I was a few years ago, so I guess it works. 

If there is anything they unexpectedly didn’t have at Aldi, I transfer that to the other store column, and then shop there. The main reason I have settled on this supermarket as our secondary one is because our prescriptions are here. I sometimes go to a third food store if I’m looking for something unusual like oysters or some unusual spice, but my time is worth something. Sometimes I know very well that I’m paying extra for something, and if I feel bad about it, I think, “This meat that’s closer is costing me an extra three dollars. If someone offered to make the trip for a further-away, cheaper meat for me for three dollars, would I pay it? Yes, gladly. So I’ll pay myself three dollars, and not make the trip.” It’s possible you have to be crazy for this to make sense, but it makes sense to me. 

Then I come home and collapse like a bunch of broccoli. All the kids lug the groceries inside, and we pay one kid $5 a week to toss out leftovers and put the new week’s groceries away. 

The next day, when I can stand to think about food again, I write all the meals in on the menu blackboard. I make on last stab at variety, and don’t serve pork twice in a row, for instance. Everyone still asks me what’s for supper every day, and I tell them to look at the blackboard, but this is another game we play. Half the time someone has added “and cheese” to every meal, or else they’ve cleverly altered my letters so it says we’re having — well, I can’t think of anything funny right now, but my kids usually can. They’re very funny. 

And now you know!

Oh, the other thing is that I have to have my list clutched in my paw while I shop, or else I won’t remember anything, but I never look at it, because the act of thinking it through and writing it down lodges it in my head. I wrote a poem about this one time, but it was pretty bad. 

And yes, I had to pick up some milk on the way home from band last night because I forgot to buy milk. Right in the middle of hot chocolate season, too. 

Sites I refer to often lately:
New York Times cooking (I get their emails, and usually end up googling around and finding a simplified version of their fancy pants recipes, but it’s not bad for inspiration)
Damn Delicious
My Korean Kitchen
Milk Street 
Saveur
Sip and Feast
But honestly, I usually start with the major ingredients and I have and then google that + [ethnicity] and just see where that takes me. And as I mentioned, I will very often do an image search for my name and “sandwich” or “soup” or whatever, just to jog my memory. I have no idea what people eat every week, and I have to start from scratch every time. 

Sincerely, Horace J. Schmiddlapp

The other day, my therapist said, “How are you? The last time we talked, your father had just died.”

And I answered, “Well . . . he’s still dead.”

This is totally a dad joke, and he would have laughed. Every time a celebrity died, he would rail against the 24-hour coverage on the news, as if there could be some update. Still dead! And I’m finding myself doing more and more things in tribute to him. If you care to play along, here are some things you could do in tribute to my father:

1.Sign something ‘Horace J. Schmiddlapp’. I forget how this first got started. I think he got tired of having to sign endless, useless permission slips for his eight children, so he started signing them ‘Horace J. Schmiddlapp’, and no one ever questioned it. Now that we’re going over legal documents and working through thorny issues of his estate, we’re glad he only took it that far.

2. Bring fancy cookies to the people who work at the post office and bank. This was a recent development, but apparently he used to do this every Christmas. I was amazed to hear it. When I was growing up, he cultivated a reputation as a curmudgeon. I guess it goes to show: Just because you used to be one way, doesn’t mean you can’t start bringing people cookies.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

The financial cost of NFP and FAM. Please take my survey!

Everyone knows that barely any Catholics use NFP, because it’s hard and it’s counter-cultural. But even among those who are ready and willing, there can be obstacles. One of those obstacles is money. I’ve put together a survey to get an idea of how much of a problem money is for people who use or want to use NFP. The survey is anonymous, and I will use the information in an article I’m writing. 

It’s not a scientific survey, but I’m hoping to get enough responses to give me an idea of what is common around the country and the world. You don’t need to be Catholic to take the survey! It has seven questions, is anonymous, and should take about two minutes to complete. I’d be very grateful if you could take the survey and share it on social media or with anyone who might be interested. Here’s the link, or you can use the embedded widget below.

Follow-up question: What other obstacles might prevent you from using or trying NFP, besides money? Distance? Opportunity? Childcare? Cultural attitudes? What else? 

 

 
Create your own user feedback survey

Image Love for money (Free photobank torange.biz) / ©torange.biz Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Axed from Amazon. Argh.

Well, this stinks. I got a letter from Amazon saying this:

Hello from the Associates Program,

We are writing to tell you that effective as of today’s date, Amazon is terminating your Associates account.  Under the terms of the Operating Agreement, we may terminate your account at any time, with or without cause.  This decision is final and not subject to appeal.

It is important that you immediately remove all Amazon Content from your Site(s).  Please be aware that any other accounts you have, or may open in the future, may be closed without payment of any fees.  Amazon reserves all other rights and claims.

Because you are not in compliance with the Operating Agreement, Amazon will not pay you any outstanding advertising fees related to your account.  Amazon exercises its right under the Operating Agreement to withhold fees based on violations, which include the following:

-You are incentivizing others to visit the Amazon Site by specifying that purchases made using your Special Links will help to support you or your website.

-You are encouraging customers to bookmark your Amazon links, as opposed to clicking through your Site to reach Amazon.

Thank you for your participation in the Amazon Associates Program.

Warmest Regards,

Amazon.com
http://www.amazon.com/associates

It was so weird and abrupt, I thought it might be fake (“Warmest Regards”??), but it’s not. I knew they changed their Terms of Service on Dec. 1, and I thought I was following the new guidelines, but apparently not. I understand the second guideline, but the first one they mentioned doesn’t even make sense to me.

Well, this is a pretty big kick in the teeth, especially now, when everyone’s buying tons of stuff. I’m telling you about it for three reasons.

One is, if you’re shopping on Amazon, please use someone else’s link! Lots of folks have Amazon Associates accounts, and it would be a shame to waste that money.

Two: If you have an Amazon Associate account that’s important to you, stop everything make sure you’re in compliance. They didn’t give me any warning whatsoever; they just shut it down.

Three: I’ve installed a PayPal button on the top right sidebar. I have really mixed feelings about this. I try to give people something for their money, so I was pretty happy about the Patreon system. I’m very aware that my patrons are essentially giving me gifts, for which I am very grateful! But at least folks got access to our goofy little podcast, and I could tell myself I wasn’t just begging. When I started putting ads on the site, I spent a lot of time hunting for the right ad agency, so as to avoid cluttering it up too much for readers. I hate begging. Hate it.

On the other hand, I don’t really know, at the moment, how we’re going to make up this lost income. It was real income, not just fun money. November to January is when I make the most money through Amazon, and all of that is just gone, even if I do somehow manage to get reinstated in the future. I’m looking into alternative affiliate programs, and I can push harder to get another book out sooner than I planned, and of course Damien can get yet another job. We’re not destitute, by any means, and there are many families needier than ours! But it’s a little nail-bitey just the same, and I did not sleep a lot last night.

So, argh argh argh, I guess if you had some cash dragging you down and you really wanted to get rid of it, and you sometimes enjoy my scribblings and bibblings, you could do worse than to click that button.

Thank you.

I’ll keep calling Amazon and trying to get reinstated, but I am not optimistic. They are just extremely big, and I’m just another blogger!

Argh.

When you give a man money, you don’t own a share in his soul

Several years ago, my family went through a rotten patch, and we couldn’t scrape up enough money to pay our basic bills. A friend of the family got wind of our troubles and fired off a generous check. She did the same the next month, and then next as well, always with a little note saying she hoped it could help make a dent in our expenses.

One month, we miraculously found ourselves above water. One of the most miserable parts of poverty is having to deny your kids. It almost hurts worse when they learn so quickly not to ask for even the smallest treat. So when the mail came and there was yet another check from our friend for expenses from, the first thing I thought was, “Oh, I can buy the kids a swing!”

But I didn’t want to be presumptuous, so I asked her permission to spend her money on a swing. She was flabbergasted. She begged me to spend it however I saw fit, because it was a gift. It wasn’t her money; it was mine.

This is how you live the gospel. This is how you don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. When she gave me the money, she didn’t give herself permission to manage my life. She wasn’t buying a share in my life or my soul or my day. She understood this better than I did.

Having been the poor, I don’t want to romanticize the poor, to paint them as some kind of holy, spotless victims who can do no wrong simply because they are poor. The poor are just people, just like the rich. Sometimes they are greedy; sometimes they are stupid; sometimes they are ungrateful; sometimes they are dishonest, just like the rich.

Sometimes poor people do dumb or dishonest things with money, even the money you gave them. (Rich people can hide or get past their dumb or dishonest actions more easily than the poor; that’s the main difference.)

I’ve been on that side of this difficult transaction, too. I’ve been the one to give money to a needy person, only to discover that he wasn’t as needy as he claimed, or he spent the money foolishly, or he spent it in a way that I thought showed an ungrateful attitude, or a million other flaws in the way he received my gift. Maybe I denied myself so that he could eat, and then he turned around and got himself a treat, and acted like it was no big deal.

That sucks. It feels horrible. No one wants to be played for a sucker. No one wants their good will offering converted into something evil or gross; and no one wants their sacrifice treated like dirt.

In situations like this: sure.  If the person you gave money to lied, don’t give him any more money. If you think the money is making his life worse, don’t give him any more money. If interacting with this person is an occasion of sin for you, maybe take a break. Find someone else who needs your gift. God knows there are always more needy people.

But this is very basic: Once you have given the money, it is no longer yours. That’s what it means to give. If you give but still want to hang on, then you haven’t really given; you’ve just tried to buy a share in another human being. Charity doesn’t come with a rubber band that you can twitch any time you feel like it, making the other fellow dance to your ideals. That’s not giving. That’s investing, and we’re not supposed to treat other people like investment property.

Scripture is full of imprecations not only to give to the poor, but to be gracious about it, or at very least to shut up about it.

Do we want any chance at all of getting into the kingdom of God? Then we have to recognize that we, all of us, are the poor — poor beyond measure — and that Christ gave recklessly to us. He gave without any hope of being paid back, without any hope that we’d use His gift well, without any hope that we’d be anywhere near sufficiently grateful. He gave up Heaven to become a man, and then gave up his body and became a dead man. That’s what He did for us. He doesn’t threaten to withdraw salvation every time we act ungrateful (which we do every day) or squander his gifts (which we do every day) or fail to shape up (which we do every day). Instead, He gives more and more.

Look at your weekly bulletin. Is there Mass? Are there baptisms? Is there confession? You’re receiving charity. Are you living up to it? I’m not. I’m a horrible investment. I’m a black hole. Christ knows this, and still He gives.

That’s what he does. And we’re going to be jerks to each other about money?

So if we give — and we must, if we can at all! — remember we’re not making an investment. We’re not teaching a lesson. We’re not purchasing a share in someone’s life. We’re imitating Christ. Christ will make our gift into something great, if we will let go of it. 

***
Photo: Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr (Creative Commons)

The FYOOOTURE of this site and podcast

Maybe you noticed that I put some ads on this site. I want to know how that’s working out for you; and I want to know what you’d like to see and hear from my site and podcast in the future.

Why ads? This year, we’ll have two kids entering college and one going to kindergarten (which we pay for). These were foreseeable expenses, but then the family van suddenly succumbed a year ahead of my hopes. We haven’t visited or helped my parents, gone to Girl Scouts or other activities, or gone to our beloved new parish for many weeks, because we don’t trust the van to go — or, more importantly, to stop — when we want it to. We’re searching for a downsized replacement vehicle in our price range, and we’re hustling for more work; but it suddenly became clear that it was time to monetize the thing I already have established. So, ads!

Do I still need pledges? Oh, yes, please please. I’m immensely grateful for your support through Patreon, which made it possible to launch the site when I left Aleteia, and which has kept it going for six months now. (I haven’t forgotten that I owe many of you the promised perks for pledging. I have no excuse for dragging my feet on that, except that I have very large feet, and they are heavy.) Your pledges mean I can continue writing five days a week without worrying about being fired for, like, saying “balls.” I’m so grateful, and very much welcome your continued support.

Oh gosh, please, I don’t want to go back to cranking out SEO-optimized articles that aren’t designed to be read. The photo at the top, illustrating my creative process? I’m thrilled with that, as long the thing I’m writing with one hand isn’t twelve short essays about cigar wrappers.

Will the podcasts continue? In the words of Darth Vader: Nothing can stop that now. My husband and I have been producing weekly 25-minute podcasts which are available to patrons who pledge at any level, even $1 a month. They’re chatty, drinky, goofy, and non-political, and I read a poem at the end.

We’ve just upgraded our audio system, so we should sound less bottom-of-a-wellish starting this week. We’re also restructuring a bit. I’ll be returning to my original idea of doing interviews with guests once a month or so. I also want to have recurring features for me and Damien to cover. We have some ideas, but we nervously welcome suggestions. What would you like to hear?

Why this particular ad network? I chose Mediavine because they work to keep the site as uncluttered as possible, to load the ads sequentially so it’s not too slow, and to keep the content appropriate. So far, I’ve been happy with the results, and I hope you can read without disruptions, both on mobile and desktop. Please let me know if you are having any problems viewing the site, or if you see an ad that doesn’t belong.

Any other questions, suggestions, complaints, concerns, or offers for an all-inclusive package for a weekend at the beautiful, sun-drenched La Fiesta Americana Resort using the Hilton rewards I can’t seem to persuade you I don’t actually have? Hit me! Or just write me an email, sheesh.

Finally: Thank you. You guys are good friends.

Podcast #4! S.C. Naoum of Eye of the Tiber refuses to swear in Aramaic

 

… but only because he’s self-conscious about his accent. We’ll get him next time.

I just sent out a Soundcloud link to all my lovely patrons, so you can hear my fourth podcast, a half-hour conversation with the comic genius S. C. Naoum, who created Eye of the Tiber and who still writes 95% of it.  You can become a patron for as little as $1 a month, and I appreciate every single pledge.

I’m still experimenting with the best model to make this blog work. I would really love to keep posting five times a week, and to keep it free of ads. As you know, I also write for The Catholic Weekly, I freelance at various places, I do speaking engagements, and I’m about to re-launch my “Catholic Artist of the Month” feature at Aleteia; and I have another recurring project in the works for later this year.

screen-shot-2017-01-18-at-2-35-48-pm

Is that bringing in enough income? Nnnnnot yet!

This is the part where most bloggers will start calling you by affectionate nicknames, using lots of exclamation points, reminding you of how much super fun we’ve had over the years, and nodding and winking maniacally about how much super fun we will definitely continue to have, as long as you pledge at any point, such as now. FUN!

Maybe they will even laboriously put together “Top Ten Dank and Woke Reasons You Can’t and Won’t Even Bother to Consider Not Becoming a Patron of This Blog, As If!”

Instead, I’ll just share what really goes through my self-employed head:

11:40 on a Tuesday:

This is actually going really well. I am wise and prudent and enterprising, I know how to hustle, I have done my homework, and I really believe in this model of speaking to and working with my readers directly, eliminating irrelevant middlemen and fostering a true sense of community.

And as an added bonus which benefits everyone, never again will I have a perfectly good naughty pun neutered like a newt. Never again will I sit before my keyboard, locked into literary paralysis by the very real fear that, even though I said something good, true, and beautiful, it’s going to be misconstrued by someone who barely knows how to read but who is a giant donor to someone who is a medium-sized donor to someone who has influence over the person who signs my checks. Never again!

Yes, yes, I am seeing slow but steady growth, and I am striking a very good balance between gentle self-promotion and a liberating focus on my true vocation. Yes. This is my best year ever.

Five minutes later:

Fuckity fuckty fuck fuck fuck. This isn’t working, this isn’t working. Can I use my van to drive for Uber? [hurriedly Googles “sell kidney southern NH how much”] THIS ISN’T WORKING. The only thing I can do is ask for more money, and the more I do that, the more everyone hates me. I hate me. It’s only a matter of time before they kick me off the internet, and the only thing people will remember of me is that some lady named Cynthia got in a fight with Tito Edwards over a potato, and then everyone stopped believing in blogs. It’s over. It’s over. I’m done.

Three minutes later:

OH, somebody pledged a dollar! This is really, really working! I’M A GOLDEN GOD!

And so on.

So here’s my appeal to you:

I’m a pretty okay writer, right? I feel like I am. So, can you send me some money, please? I promise I’m using it mainly to pay very boring bills, and the occasional bottle of kangaroo wine. Did I mention that the van needs brakes, the washing machine is making a whole new squawking noise, and we have two kids starting college in the Fall?  And the rest of them keep eating and eating and eating?

If you pledge, not only will you stave off my nervous breakdown, but you will also get access to weekly podcasts, and I’m also offering various other perks as thank-yous: Pants Pass decals, Dignaroos, autographed books, and others. Please check it out and pass it on!

That’s all I got. Thank you.
P.S. You’re a golden god. You are.

Patreon! My podcast! And dignity. Always dignity.

My husband says that I have many skills, but self-promotion is not one of them.

He is correct.

Here are two things that I haven’t been able to bring myself to tell you about, even though I’m hoping they will, you know, succeed and make me money or whatever.

FIRST THING: I have a podcast. Damien and I have been doing 27-minute* podcasts which do not at all labor under that awful burden of too much polish. Nope, I will never ever say “Wypchać się sianem!” Nor will I overproduce, overthink, or over-prepare for one of these podcasts. Last time, for instance, we explained what not to do about ice dams on your roof, we accused each other of various misdeeds with soup, and I praised Mariah Carey’s beautiful tush.

HOW can you hear this amazing podcast? You can become a patron through Patreon. That’s SECOND THING.

As you can see, this blog does not have any ads on it. This provides a beautiful, uncluttered reading experience. It also keeps my bank account from becoming cluttered with money. In the interest of feng shui, I’d like to balance out the zero advertising dollars with dollars coming in from somewhere else, because of my wretched attachment to things like groceries and electricity.

This site will always be free to read. With Patreon, masochists readers can keep it going by, well, sending me money; and as a thank-you, I send various perks.

Here’s how that works:

If you sign up to pledge a dollar a month — A DOLLAR A MONTH! — you get access to my podcast. (I originally set the podcast pledge level at $5, but those four extra dollars have been haunting me, so $1 it is. If you pledged $5 to get the podcast and want to change your pledge to $1 now, I won’t be offended.) (See above: Not great at self-promotion.)

Here’s my Patreon pledge structure:

$1 monthly pledge makes you a Fisher of Pants (an actual phrase someone typed into Google and then ended up at my blog) and gives you access to the podcast. Every week, I’ll email you a private Soundcloud link so you can download it and listen at your leisure.

Any additional pledge earns you the podcast and also . . .

$5 monthly makes you a Little Two-Legs, and I’ll send you a Pants Pass decal.

$10 ??? Still looking for ideas. I’ve rearranged this perk structure so many times, I think I’m going to throw up, so I’m just going to leave it like this because I’m dying here.

$50 monthly makes you a Heretical Hosebeast, and gets you an autographed copy of my book, The Sinner’s Guide to NFP, OR an autographed copy of one of the other books to which I’ve contributed: Style, Sex, and Substance and Catholic and Married: Leaning Into Love.

$75 makes you a Defender of Dignity and earns you a pair of Dignaroos, which I still think is funny, even if no one else does.

$100 patrons are Actual Patrons, and I will contribute an additional $100 yearly to our partnered family in India through our favorite charity, Save a Family Plan. Hooray, I’m useful!

And finally, for $500, you can call yourself a Mensch, and I’ll mail you a nice batch homemade rugelach. Your choice, cherry or apricot, with nuts or without.

Okay, phew.

To all the amazing folks who went ahead and pledged even before I got my act together enough to tell anyone about it, thank you so much. It was enormously encouraging to me as I made the leap to an independent site, and I appreciate it so much!

To everyone else, please consider making a pledge so I can keep churning out this nonsense. And whether you pledge or not, please share this post, especially with your rich friends.

Thank you. From the bottom of Mariah Carey’s beautiful tush, thank you.

*I don’t know why.

Is it easier for rich people to have big families?

Heart of money

David Mills is doing a little self-examination at Aleteia with A Marxist Lesson for Breeding Catholics: What is romance to the comfortable can be a burden to the poor and sick. Mills is a good and honest man, and has a knack for prodding our weak spots without excusing himself. I think he’s only half right in this essay, though.

His main thesis: Most of the Catholics writing about Catholic sexuality are resting comfortably in a place of privilege — and they should knock it off. For a Catholic middle class couple, says Mills, having another child

 may mean giving up a vacation if the family’s wealthy, or the Thursday family dinner out if the family’s middle class. Her arrival won’t mean giving up food, or rent or the parochial school that can make all the difference to his older siblings’ future.

It’s easy, he says, for a financially secure couple to let their marriages be fruitful, and to see Catholic sexual teaching as a lovely and liberating thing. But, says Mills, the poor do not have this luxury, and may face genuine hardships that a middle class couple never even considers.

Mills says,

 The affluent for whom the Catholic teaching is not a great burden can fall to the temptations of their class, one of which is to think of their children as lifestyle accessories … You can feel that God rewarded your obedience and sacrifice by giving you more “toys” than your friends have.

He concludes:

We the comfortable, who speak so romantically of being open to life—because for us, with our privileges, it is a romance—could find ways to make it a romance, and not a terror, for others too.

Overall, he has a very good point — and truly, the main reason my book about the struggles of NFP sold so well was because there was such a glut of “perky” public discourse on the topic. About a decade ago, just about anybody who talked about the Church’s sexual teaching talked about how lovely, how fulfilling, how empowering, how enlightening, how life-changingly, marriage-buildingly, blindingly awesome it all is. So the world was pretty ready for a book that said, “Yes, but it’s also really hard, and sometimes it stinks on ice. Here’s why it’s still a good idea.” (And if you’re interested in making my life a little more romantic, then for goodness’ sake, buy my book!)

It’s a bad idea to present Church teaching as a golden ticket to happiness. But more specifically, I have a quibble with the idea that material wealth usually makes it easier to be “open to life” (a phrase which Mills uses to mean “ready to have another baby,” which is really only a part of what that phrase means — but that’s a post for another day!). Depending on what crowd you’re in, you can get very different ideas about who’s struggling with what. I mean no disrespect, but Mills, a white-bearded male scholar, most likely reads about Catholic sexual teaching in books and journals, where one is unlikely to hear anything candid, raw, unpolished or, frankly, honest. For some more useful research on the topic, try hanging around in the back of the church with other women who can’t sleep because they’re not sure if they’re pregnant or not, and they can’t make up their minds how guilty to feel about the way they feel about it.

He does acknowledge that the poor aren’t just helpless saps, too anemic to grapple with the headiness of solid doctrine:

The poor are not merely victims but moral agents who can teach the comfortable, not least about the good life and the place of children therein. As Pope Francis said, “For most poor people, a child is a treasure. … Let us also look at the generosity of that father and mother who see a treasure in every child.”

I wish he had said more about this. In truth, it’s often wealthy couples who struggle more with the notion of having another baby.  Poor couples can be so accustomed to uncertainty, and so used to making the best out of whatever happens, that the notion of having yet another child is less terrifying to them than it would be to a wealthy, secure couple who feel like their material lives, at least, are under control. A couple with an empty checking account and a fridge full of government cheese can laugh hilariously when they read that it takes $245,000 to raise a child; but a couple who actually has $245,000 in the bank might gulp and think twice before taking that kind of plunge.

Poverty is (or at least can be) a great teacher, because we are (as Mills points out) allpoor in one way or another — if not materially, than maybe physically, or emotionally, or in our relationships. Being poor in any of these ways makes it obvious that we are not in control, but that we still need to work very hard to get more in control — which is an excellent model for how to approach parenthood, and marriage, and life in general. Try really hard all the time; realize, all the time, that a lot of what happens is not up to you.

Is it easy to trust God, with your sexual life and otherwise, when you’re poor? I’m not going to say yes! Poverty is no joke, and being poor and pregnant can be twelve different kinds of miserable. But I’m not going to say that money makes it easier to trust God. There’s a reason Jesus warned about getting bogged down with riches.

As for why it’s mainly the secure and happy who write about sex, there are two reasons. The first is legitimate, and it’s that people who struggle don’t want to reveal private things about their marriage to the world.  It may be comforting for Jack and Joanne to read that Alyssa and Aaron had a big fight about sex; but Aaron probably won’t appreciate it if Alyssa spills all to the Huffington Post.

The second reason is less defensible. We faithful can be loathe to speak publicly about our struggles because we’re afraid that we’ll scare away the undecided — that our suffering will be the final nudge that tips an on-the-fence couple the wrong way.  So we Happy Face it up, thinking we’re helping the Holy Spirit out with one of His less-successful PR campaigns.

Poverty comes in many forms, as Mills acknowledges; and so does faith in God. I am working on learning how to put more trust in the truth when I write about my faith. It’s not up to me to paste a happy ending on the word of God, and that is true no matter how much money I have in the bank.

Grace is free, but not all fees are simony

Abbé_pratiquant_la_simonie

The expense of obtaining a decree of nullity makes it difficult for some people to come into full communion with the Church. When annulments are expensive, there is also the risk that outsiders (or even Catholics) perceive that annulment is just “Catholic divorce,” for sale to parishioners with enough ready cash. But here’s the problem: it really does cost money to do it right.

Read the rest at the Register.