KITCHEN TABLE CHATS

Pull up a chair in my domestic church and let's chat!

I have worn many labels (Not in any particular order): Catholic, Wife, Mom,Gramma, Doctor, Major, Soccer Mom, Military Wife, Fellow.

All of these filter my views of the world. I hope that like St. Monica, I can through prayer, words and example, lead my children and others to Faith.
"The important thing is that we do not let a single day go by in vain without putting it to good use for eternity"--Blessed Franz J├Ągerst├Ątter

Monday, January 05, 2015

Little Epiphanies and Old Habits



It seems like many of my recent posts address the recent transitions of my life like spending Advent as empty nesters and musing on the why's and what if's of Christmases past. Tonight I had another little epiphany about my current state in life. As I begin to pack away Christmas ornaments I don't really have to pack them away so that they are ready to move across the continent on a moment's notice.

For thirty years I carefully secured every single ornament so that it could withstand a military move. Even though the last nine years of my husband's career were spent in the DC area I was always prepared for the announcement that we would be moving again. My husband has been retired for three years now and we are not planning on leaving our current home for the foreseeable future. I probably don't have to make sure every breakable ornament is cradled and cushioned. Barring another rogue earthquake, once the boxes are put on the basement shelves they will not be moved again until Advent of 2015.

The thing is I am not sure I can break this habit. Many of these ornaments are like old friends. They have hung on our Christmas trees in Upper Peninsula Michigan and in Florida. They have seen Christmases in Georgia and Christmases in California and several spots in between. I don't think I can just carelessly fling them into a box. There is something comforting about packing them away for the year and something joyous about unwrapping them as Advent begins. I know they are inanimate objects and will be totally unaffected by their state of storage, but their state of storage emotionally affects me. Taking a little time with the ornaments gives me a little more time with the memories they contain. Maybe all the wrapping I have been doing over the years was less about ornaments withstanding the rough and tumble handling of military moves and more about me withstanding the rough and tumble realities of military life.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Old Dog--New Tricks




I am trying to figure out how I missed out learning about the the food mill. I just bought one and it is wonderful! I've been making lots of fresh applesauce with the wonderful apples I've been getting from local farmers. With this handy gadget it is super easy. I just quarter the apples and fill up my stock pot until it is about half full. No peeling, coring or seeding is required. I add a cup of water, cover and simmer on the stove until the apples are very soft--mushy soft. Give the apples a stir every now and then to make sure the bottom apples are not sticking to the pot.  I position my food mill over another stock pot and ladle the soft apples in. I just start cranking the handle and beautiful applesauce comes out the bottom. Peels, stems, and seeds stay up top. You turn clockwise to get the applesauce but remember to give a frequent counter-clockwise turn to reposition the apples. You can process the applesauce for canning if you like, but I just ladled it into freezer safe containers and put it in the freezer. I could have used a food mill back when my children were eating baby food. I am looking forward to trying it out on a variety of fruits next summer.

Discovery number two is liquid chalk markers. I like using stick-on chalkboard labels for reusable storage jars in my pantry. It works pretty well but the regular pieces of chalk were not easy to use when I wanted to print small letters. With repeated handling of the container the chalk writing smudged easily. I just tried these liquid chalk markers. They are as easy to use as a pen and the liquid chalk flows on easily. It is also more durable. It wipes off easily with a damp cloth.  Even after 30 years of housekeeping there are still things to learn.




I guess the point of this post is just to remind myself that I never know it all. There is always one more thing to learn or one more innovation to try.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Evangelize Like A Star

My latest article for Catholic Stand is up.  Head on over and read the whole thing.  Here is a snippet:

While the gifts of the Magi offer worthy and valuable meditations, I would like to concentrate instead on the star. 
The Wise Men were drawn to Christ by the light of a single Christmas Star. The star made no sound. There were no blaring trumpets or chorus of angels. There was only light. In that sense, the star’s role in the Christmas narrative seems passive and almost unintentional. Yet it was enough to inspire three kings to leave the comfort of their homes, traverse an unknown path, and bow down in homage to a child.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Lessons Learned



As I mentioned in the previous post, we have now reached the empty nest phase of our lives. Children still come through our doors but they are visitors, not residents. Overall, I feel very blessed by my children. I know I did the best job as a mom I could do at each stage of their lives. Of course, that does not stop me from musing about "what if's". There are definitely some things I would have done differently if I had the wisdom at age 25 that I now have some three decades later.

The Advent and Christmas seasons bring this to the forefront. I did always mark the season of Advent with a nativity scene and an Advent wreath. But I was probably ten years in to this parenting adventure before I really appreciated the value of the liturgical calendar. The rhythm of the liturgical seasons with their special feasts and traditions keep a family focused on God's time, not the world's time.

So just looking at Advent and Christmas there are some things I wish I had done from the very beginning and other things I am grateful that I figured out early on. I had Christmas dishes but they stayed in storage and were brought out for Christmas entertaining and on Christmas Day. It was hard to justify the storage space for these dishes when they were used so infrequently. Then I realized that if Advent and Christmas are seasons, I can use the dishes throughout the season. So part of the first Sunday of Advent ritual was changing out the dishes. From the First  Sunday of Advent through Epiphany I use my Christmas dishes. This was a daily signal to the kids that Christmas is coming.

What I didn't take advantage of were all the wonderful feast days during Advent. For example, it has only been in the last ten years that I consistently marked the Feast of St. Nicholas. The Feast of St. Lucy is the perfect day to begin Christmas baking. I wish that I had promoted a family Rosary on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe to distinctly mark these Marian days.

Christmas is a season, not just a single day. Yet after putting up decorations in October the secular world stops all Christmas carols and takes down the decorations as soon as the day is done. It is not uncommon to see discarded trees on the curb on December 26. I am sorry to see so many neighbors stop turning on the Christmas lights once Christmas Day has passed. I do understand after the mayhem of Christmas morning it is tempting to quickly put everything back in order. All of those New Year's resolutions to be more organized are looming and there is an urge to get a running start on discipline. I think part of the problem is that all of the gifts are exchanged on Christmas Day so there is nothing anyone is really looking forward to after that. Christmas is defined by the material and not the spiritual.

My solution that I did not implement with my own children, but I wish I had stems from basing our celebrations on the liturgical calendar. I would begin Advent as always. I would mark St. Nicholas Day with candy or other small treats in their shoes and perhaps a small wrapped package at their dinner place.

I would try to keep the focus of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on family and on Mass. We would have our big family dinner and and attend Mass together but gifts would be de-emphasized. In the current culture it is unrealistic to make Christmas Day devoid of gifts. However, I think I would make it a stockings only gift day. If family is visiting and leaving soon after Christmas Day we could exchange gifts with them. However, all other packages would stay under the tree.

My mother told me that in her Hispanic community as a child, most gifts were received on Epiphany. I wish I had done that. The gifts given and received are tied to the gifts of the Magi to the Christ Child. I also like the idea of keeping the Three Kings from our nativity scene wandering about the house throughout Advent and Christmas and having them arrive at the manger scene on Epiphany.

I don't think I failed at celebrating the Advent and Christmas seasons with my children and I don't think there was anything wrong in the way our Christmas traditions evolved. I am not even certain that doing the things I described above would be better and not just different. I just wish I had been smart enough back then to give it a try.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

An Empty Nest Advent



This has been a very different sort of Advent. For the first time since 1986, I have no children in the house as we wind our way towards Christmas. The good news is that the house will be once again filled on Christmas Day. But that does not change the eerie quiet of the last few weeks. There was no discussion of who lights the Advent wreath or where the penguin ornaments should be hung or whose turn is it to mark the Advent calendar. Even one grown child living at home gives me more incentives to mark and observe the season well. My husband went out with no kids to help him and bought the tree. He put the lights on and I put the ornaments on. Just two old adults getting ready for Christmas.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. This is just a different thing. After decades of Advents with traditions geared towards keeping children focused on the true meaning of Christmas it is interesting to continue the motions and realize that I am doing this for my husband and myself now. The music, the decorations, the lighting of Advent candles, the Nativity scene, and the prayers have less of a catechetical mission and are more introspective.

I know there are single adults, couples without children, and other couples who have been doing the Advent without children for a while. This is just a transition for us that I didn't anticipate. I know we will figure it out and learn what is valuable for us to do and what is no longer relevant. In the meantime, I am just muddling through this Advent, wondering when my house got so quiet.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Gratitude for Imperfections and a lost potato masher.


As a military wife for 30 years I dealt with the unpredictable life of short-notice relocations, deployments, and household emergencies. It just seemed to be the rule that major appliances break when my husband is away. Blizzards, earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes are all more likely when I am on my own.

Perhaps because there was so much disorder that was out of my control, I was very protective of the order I could control. This was and is still especially true of my kitchen. (When my husband retired he was given strict orders to keep his engineering optimization tendencies away from my kitchen!) Family members only visited one or two times per year because we lived so far away. They would often try to help me in my kitchen. I found it very stressful. They did not know my system and it seemed a futile exercise to try and teach them the system when they were going to leave soon and probably not visit again until we were in a new house with a new system. Once they were gone, I felt burdened by trying to find all my things that had been helpfully put away but not where I normally put them. I remember breaking down into tears because I could not find the potato masher.

However, that lost potato masher made me take a hard look at myself. I was sobbing over a five-dollar kitchen tool. No one intentionally hid it from me. No one was trying to create chaos in my life. Someone had tried to help me out and ease my burdens and I was angry because they had done it imperfectly. So I recast the situation. Wasn't I fortunate that someone cared about me enough to want to make my life easier? Wasn't I fortunate that family members wanted to take time out of their lives to visit me? Wasn't I fortunate that my family members were still healthy enough to be able to visit? The lost potato masher seemed pretty insignificant in comparison.

I always think about that around Christmas when there are so many memories of wonderful family visits. I would not trade a perfectly organized kitchen for any of those memories. I am grateful for that lost potato masher because it offered a moment of grace to rethink my priorities and to be thankful for imperfections.

Friday, December 05, 2014

A "Gruber" Moment?

  • Upfront admission. I dared to disagree with Simcha Fisher on her Facebook page a few months ago and was thoroughly castigated by her friends and  fans. I swore I would never try to have a reasonable discussion in a Facebook combox again. I was called uneducated, a wannabe writer, and a troll who was just trying to get clicks for her own blog. 
  • Which is why I am writing here. Her most recent article for the National Catholic Register, Broken Windows and Depersonalization is actually very good. So it is really frustrating to see the following exchange between her husband and Register columnist Mark Shea in her Facebook comments about this article: 

  • Damien Fisher The Register commenters are living up to expectations. The real culprit in Garner's death seems to be the welfare state. Also, fatherless homes require a police state, so what are you gonna do? Plus, the protesters are making people late for work, which is really inconsiderate.
    17 hrs · Edited · Like · 6
  • Mark Shea Damien Fisher: You beat me to it. A cop could walk up to a black guy, shout "Revenge for the South!" and discharge his service revolver right between his eyes and there would *still* be a good 5-10% of Register comboxes posts explaining that it was justified, the victim had it coming, and we need to reverently never question the Power Figure in Uniform when he deploys Sacred Fascistic Violence against the weak person in dark skin.
    15 hrs · Like · 2

This is coming on the heels of Fisher's post on inappropriate responses to allegations of rape that she claims are coming from "Conservative Catholics". She names no names and links to no web sites. She just says this is what conservative Catholics are saying. You know, her point could be made just as well without smearing Catholics in the process. I would guess that most readers of the National Catholic Register would consider themselves conservative, orthodox, traditional, faithful, or some other such adjective.

So do Simcha Fisher and Mark Shea really regard their readers with such disdain? Are they the Catholic equivalent of Jonathan Gruber and laughing all the way to the bank as they manipulate those clods who read the Register?

I have no idea. You will have to ask them. What I do think is that this sort of broad brush labeling is exactly the kind of depersonalization Simcha Fisher is arguing against in her piece linked above. We don't need more labels and categories. We need to listen to each other as individuals and address each other as individuals. It is very lazy to refute an argument by just claiming someone's viewpoint is unworthy of consideration because of some ideological label. For example:  "You know his opinion is suspect because he reads the National Catholic Register, likes the Latin Mass, works at a pro-life crisis pregnancy center, votes Republican, etc."

I am also very certain that you can search my blog and come up with a long list of examples where I have done the same sort of thing. I am guessing that many of us are guilty of this. What I am suggesting is that we make ourselves more aware of how destructive this tactic is. It is great for preaching to the choir and rallying your base. But it does nothing for reconciliation and advancing civil discourse. We accomplish nothing if we depersonalize and demonize those with whom we have ideological disagreements. 

This is not to say that we ignore statistics. We can analyze demographics for trends and use that information to help craft solutions to poverty, crime, addiction, or any other social ill, but individuals are not statistics. They are unique human beings with unique stories. Likewise, I can assess the odds of a person having a given viewpoints based on whether he reads the National Catholic Reporter or the National Catholic Register; whether he votes for Democrats or Republicans; whether he drives a pick up truck or a Prius. However, I cannot know for sure until I talk to him. I drive a Prius and love to shop at the farmers' markets but contrary to many people's assumptions, I am not an environmental activist. 

It would have been very easy to write this post without giving specific examples and just complain about "professional Catholic bloggers", the "Patheos" mafia, and other euphemisms as is often done in the blogosphere. But such vague and veiled references offers no opportunity to correct misunderstandings. So I am going to do my best to talk about specifics and avoid such imprecision. If others do as well, perhaps we can recover some degree of civility in public discourse.

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