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, Professor, 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

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Is gossiping beneath the concerns of a pope?

Gossip by Giovanni Boldini, 1873

My latest article is up at Catholic Stand and I am a bit surprised by the reaction. I explored why Pope Francis has addressed the sin of gossiping on so many occasions. The first response was a diatribe on the "liberal" takeover of the Church and how the discouragement of gossiping is an effort to quash dissent. The next response complained that the Pope's frequent use of hyperbole makes it impossible to take him seriously.

Neither of these commenters addressed my analysis or the spiritual lessons I gleaned from Pope Francis. Rather, because my starting point was a homily by Pope Francis they ignored my words and attacked their inspiration.

Pope Francis is very different in style from both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Yet I have heard nothing that he has actually said that is a departure from Catholic teaching. I have seen many headlines written in the secular press that attribute meanings to his words that are just not there. I have seen many articles written in the Catholic press that claim his words support this controversial positions but when I go back and read the actual address I just don't see the controversy.

Pope Francis declaring a Year of Mercy is very consistent with his inclusive approach. This is not an approach of syncretism that puts equal value to disparate ideas. This is the approach that says we are all sinners and the Church welcomes all sinners to find salvation in Jesus Christ and His Church. We do not say repent and be saved over there and then you can sit by us in the pews. We say come sit by us now and feel the healing mercy of Christ.

Which I believe is why the Pope is talking about gossiping. No one feels welcomed when they face a gauntlet of disapproving looks and wagging tongues. If our snark, biting sarcasm, and snide criticisms drive people away from the Church and away from their potential salvation then we have contributed to the demise of their souls as well as our own. This is not a petty parish problem that is beneath the concerns of the Holy Father. This is an obstacle to effective evangelization and the Pope is right to take it on.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Why students are unprepared for college

St. Augustine reading philosophy and rhetoric in Rome by Benozzo Gozzoli, 1464

A recent Washington Post edition featured a front page article on the declining SAT scores over the last 10 years. In spite of overhauling the test ten years ago the trend is consistently downward.

Cyndie Schmeiser — chief of assessment for the College Board, which owns the SAT — said she is concerned because the share of students prepared for college has stagnated for five years. Close to 42 percent of students who took the SAT reached a score of at least 1550[out of 2400], a benchmark for college and career readiness. The share was far lower for Hispanic students (23 percent) and African Americans (16 percent).
 As a mom, a physician, and an adjunct college professor I have my own ideas as to why so many of our students are not ready for college. I wrote here about my recent adventure teaching a 100-level course at a four-year university. I recently received the report of my evaluations by students. They weren't too bad but there was a definite trend. The number one complaint that students had about my teaching is that I taught them too much. I gave them information that did not show up on the test. These students are totally unprepared to learn a body of knowledge and apply that knowledge. They did not understand that my job is to teach them the foundational knowledge they need to move forward in their chosen career field. My job is not to give them the answers to test questions so that they can regurgitate these answers on an exam. 

Much of this can be traced to the deemphasis of learning in our schools. We are not teaching students how to think but what to think. The teaching-to-the-test mentality makes learning all about performing well on the next metric whether that is an AP exam, the SAT, or the next iteration of a learning standards exam. Only information that shows up on a test is relevant. All other information is a waste of time.

We are also asking our schools to do so much more than provide an academic education. We are asking them to be teachers of morals, work ethics, and various social agendas. There seems to be an abundance of ideologues in the upper levels of academia and they embrace this opportunity for indoctrination. The study of history, literature, and so many other subjects  are exercises in diversity training, the study of microagressions, the chronicling of the evils of Western civilization, and the reinforcement of the perpetually offended.  There is no education in the rational, reasoned evaluation of ideas since any disagreement with the agenda du jour is labeled bigotry and hate-speech and categorically dismissed. Logic has been replaced with emotion.

I see this emphasis on victimhood and entitlement in my students. There is a constant request for special "accommodations" because of their hardships. For example, "I have a job and may not be able to arrive to class on time. Can you administer my tests to me on a different day and time that does not interfere with my work schedule?" Or how about, "If you give me a grade lower than a C it will not count towards my major. The cost of this class is a major financial hardship for my family and we cannot afford for me not to get credit for it. Therefore, you need to give me a C." 

These are only two of many requests I get from students who try to justify why the standards of performance and the course policies do not apply to them. These students cannot see that if I make a unique consideration for them I would have to do the same for every other student who comes to me with a sob story. They are so focused on their own exceptionalism that they do not recognize the obstacles and challenges of every other student in the class. Interestingly, I recently had the opportunity to chat with some high school teachers. They see the same sense of entitlement not only from their students but also from their parents.

College readiness has little to do with our feelings or emotions. Praising effort is fine for young children but as students approach adulthood the truth is results matter. College courses, especially in the sciences, involve a critical analysis of written material and quantitative calculations. It is a very Joe Friday approach: just the facts, ma'am. If you do not know the facts, you will fail. That is the harsh reality.

If we want to prepare our students for college we need to give them some of that realism. Parents need to teach their children that it takes more than desire to succeed. It takes the will to make hard choices and give up some play time to work towards success. It also takes some talent, aptitude, and even a little luck. Life isn't fair. There are always going to be people with more talent, aptitude, and luck than you. Instead of lamenting what they lack, students need to suck it up and do the most they can with what they have.

Let the parents parent. Let them address issues of morals, values, manners, and work ethic. Schools can reinforce a good work ethic and respectful manners, but leave the instruction in morals and values at home. Then let teachers teach without the interference of an agenda-driven curriculum. Maybe then we will have more students who are truly educated and ready to take the next step and enter college.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Walking the path of St. Monica

St. Monica by Gozzoli, 1464

St. Monica has always been a favorite of mine. You will notice I have her as a patron of this blog. I dearly love Mother Mary, but let’s face it, she was “full of grace” and was the Mother of God. I can often relate much more to St. Monica who had her own set of failings and was the mother of a real hellion,( Not that I am saying any of my children have come close to the exploits of the young St. Augustine). 

My prayer list used to include young moms with intentions for safe pregnancies, babies that sleep through the night, toddlers with fevers, and grade school struggles. Now that my circles have aged I am praying for elderly parents, sick spouses, college admissions, job applications, and holy spouses for grown children. And I am praying for a plethora of good and holy mothers and fathers who are having their own St. Monica experiences. Today on the Feast of St. Monica I knelt in Mass with a heart full for prayers for so many mothers and fathers whose hearts are breaking from wayward children. 

In today’s society it is counter-cultural to be a faithful Catholic. We do our best to teach our children and give them the tools they need to stand firm in their faith. But faith is a gift that must be accepted. The Sacraments are not magic. Individuals have free will to cooperate with the grace of the Sacraments or not. Unfortunately, too many of our children forge their own way, ignoring the gift of faith they have been so lovingly offered and choosing instead the lures of shallow pleasures in a secular world.

This is not a new problem. St. Monica walked this path as a mother in the fourth century. She is the model for mothers grieving from the sinful choices of their children. She never compromised her own faith in order to entice her son to return to the fold. She never enabled his sinfulness. But she also never stopped loving him. She never stopped praying for him. She never gave up hope. 

Dear St. Monica, please pray for all mothers and fathers whose children have rejected the faith. May these parents persevere in faith, hope, and love as you did and may they see their own children find their way back to a life of virtue in Christ. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Looking for Air Fryer recipes


I really did not think I needed another kitchen appliance. But then I got an email suggesting I try this air fryer. I had no idea what an air fryer was but this sounded intriguing. Using a convection heating system I could get crispy results just like deep frying while using little or no oil. I have a wonderful Calphalon deep fry pan that is perfect for Friday fish dinners but I have to buy an extra large bottle of cooking oil every time I use it. If I am just cooking for two that is a bit much.

My E'Cucina Air Fryer arrived yesterday. It is amazing! I made french fries from fresh potatoes. The instructions said to toss those with a little oil before cooking. They came out crispy and delicious. For lunch today I made my husband a Monte Cristo style grill cheese. Again, turned out wonderfully. He enjoyed the first one so much he asked me to make him another. Tonight I made coconut shrimp using one of the recipes in the pamphlet that came with my fryer. It was amazing. It was a three step breading process just like I have done before. Then into the basket and into the fryer. In 10 minutes I had perfectly crispy coconut fried shrimp. Absolutely no oil was added to the fryer. It is all done with circulating air.

I am wondering if any of you dear readers have experience using an air fryer and have a good resource for recipes. I've looked a couple of cookbooks on Amazon but none of them looked very inspiring.

This machine takes up about as much room on the counter as a bread maker. I could cook about a pound of shrimp in a single batch.

I do get a little kick-back if you enter Amazon through one of my links and buy anything (not just what is featured in the link) but the real reason I am writing is to share my discovery of this appliance and find out if anyone can steer me towards some good air fryer recipes. Look forward to hearing from you!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Gramma's House

Woman Preparing a Meal by Vincent van Gogh, 1885

This morning I tackled my wildly overgrown backyard garden. The garden is such a hodge podge of flowering plants. There is no master plan. I see something at the nursery or in a garden catalog that I just have to have and I make room for it. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. And while I have cured myself of my packrat tendencies in many areas of my life, the garden is not one of them. I need to thin out some of the plants but just hate throwing away perfectly good plants so I am always looking for a new home for the extras.

Today was more weeding than tending to established plants. There is something therapeutic about ripping weeds out of the ground by their roots. I had thought about taking my phone outside with me to listen to an audio book as I worked, but I decided I needed the silence. Nothing but the natural outdoor noises and my thoughts filled my head.

After so many years as a nomadic Air Force wife I find myself just now realizing I am settled. We have now lived in this current house longer than I have ever lived in any other house in my entire life. It is not a temporary lodging in a long line of other temporary lodgings. It is my home. Anyone who gets to know my home also gets to know me. I love watching the HGTV programs about renovating and decorating houses. I look around my own home and I am sure an interior designer would click her tongue at how many of the cardinal rules of decorating I have broken. I have too many photos and too many knick-knacks. There are little shrines everywhere as the saints accomany me from room to room. This house will never grace the pages of Southern Living but that is ok. I hope it will grace the memories of children and grandchildren.

Of course, my children have varying attachments to this house. The oldest never really lived here. He just visited during college breaks. The Army now has him and his family completely on the other side of the continent so spending time in my home is impractical as well as near impossible. And besides, there is nothing about this particular house that draws him so he is just as happy to have us visit him as to share this house with his children.

I find myself feeling a little sad about that. This is not his childhood home but it is now my home. I want it to be Gramma and Granddad's house where so many happy memories are made. I still have the blocks and the wooden toy trains and the kitchen playset waiting to be enjoyed by grandchildren. Every time I bake cookies or make applesauce or can jams I imagine what it would be like to have grandchildren helping me in the kitchen. As I watch my garden bloom I think about sharing the love of gardening with the next generation and having them by my side as I plant and weed.

There is certainly no reason to think this will never happen. But I also know I can't just wait around for the tableau I created in my mind to materialize. I do what I can to build a relationship with my grandchildren across the miles. I visit when I can. I video chat with them. I write them letters. I pray for them. Parenthood and family life took a much different course than I envisioned when I started the journey. There is no reason to expect grandparenthood to be any different. I will always do my best to be a good Gramma even if that means being Gramma somewhere other than Gramma's house.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The taint of abortion on fetal tissue donation

The Doctor by Gerrit Dou, 1653

The donation of human tissue and organs, including fetal tissue, for research and therapeutic purposes is not intrinsically evil. In fact, if done according to strict moral standards it is a very positive and generous act. However, tissue recovered from an abortion bears the stain of the evil of abortion and must be rejected. In my latest article at the HLI Truth & Charity forum I try to get past the "ick" factor and delve into the roots of why the use of tissue from aborted fetuses fails the test of moral acceptability.

Here is a snippet:

... Celebrity Sarah Silverman distills the support for this with her Twitter message that it would be “insane” not to use the fetal remains of abortion for the greater good of science and education. Her utilitarian ethos decries the waste of perfectly good fetal tissue. 
But there is the rub. Organs and tissue obtained from aborted fetuses are not “perfectly good”. We need to apply the same moral principles to the use of fetal tissue for scientific research that we apply to other uses of human organs and tissue for either transplantation or research. The fact that the tissue proffered by Planned Parenthood was obtained by the intrinsically evil act of abortion renders this tissue morally unsuitable for medical and scientific purposes.
Please head on over to the forum and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Mother's Heart: When things go awry

Sorrows by Titian, ca 1554

My latest article is up at Catholic Stand. Perhaps because I am working on a presentation that deals with how a mother relates to adult children, Pope Francis' general audience last week struck a chord with me. He used the imagery of a mother's heart to describe how the Church deals with the civilly divorced and remarried. Here is a snippet of my response:

Those of us who have children have felt the pain of a child’s misbehavior. It may be something minor such as the disobedience of a young child. It may be something more significant during the rebellious teenage years. It may be something heartbreaking as our adult children make poor life choices and face devastating consequences. No matter how old our children are or how badly their actions hurt themselves or us, they never stop being our children and we never stop loving them. 
I believe that is what Pope Francis was trying to convey about the relationship of the Church with those who have divorced and remarried. They are no different than the rest of us, in the sense that they are sinners as we all are. The Church does not condone the sins but does love the sinners. Perfection is not required to sit in the pews or participate in the life of the parish.

The article has only been up a few hours and already there are comments that prove Pope Francis was right to address the issue. The tone of these comments reflects a hostility towards these families that certainly would not make them welcome in any parish. I am even being accused of trying to negate explicit Church teaching because I endorse the Pope's view that those in irregular marital situations need to be welcomed into the fold of the parish to the full extent that Church doctrine allows.

To digress to another issue, perhaps the problem is that we think going to Communion is automatic if one attends Mass. Actually, every time  attend Mass one must discern the state of our soul. Are we in a state of grace to receive Communion? Have we observed the Eucharistic fast? Should we go to confession before we receive?

The usher driven pew-by-pew style of going up to Communion puts a spotlight on anyone who does not receive. There was a time when people prayed silently first then approached Communion when they were properly disposed. Since everyone is coming forward in a somewhat random order it is not so obvious when someone stays in his pew. I have to wonder if our drive for efficiency has taken away from the solemnity and gravity of receiving the Eucharist as well as kept some from attending Mass for fear their avoidance of Communion will stigmatize them.

There are so many children whose parents are in irregular marital situations and who are being deprived of Sunday Mass. For the sake of these children as well as their parents we should do what we can to make these families part of our parish families. Holy Mother Church loves all of her children.