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, 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

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Small successes February 27


Little bits of this and that.

1.  I slowed down enough to notice signs of spring. In spite of the cold and persistent snow, little green shoots from daffodil bulbs are starting to peek through the ground. My pot of chives is also starting to show a little green. The wisteria bush has early buds. Spring will get here.

2. Discovered what upset my dog's tummy. I think she discovered a squirrel's stash of nuts. I have trouble every fall because she loves to eat acorns and she never seems to learn that they make her sick. I found her digging and protecting a collection of cracked nuts.

3. Pat myself on the back. Laundry is done, folded, and put away. In addition, I finally remembered to sew the button back on a pair of my husband's pants. It is a little task that can be done quickly, but I kept meaning to do it, forgetting about it, meaning to do it again, then leaving it undone. Pants are now repaired and back in the wear rotation.

4. On impulse, took a couple of homemade pretzels right out of the oven to a neighbor. Found her feeling very blue. Her 15-year-old dog had died. It is funny how we can be so isolated in the suburbs with each of us living our own little lives in our own little house. It was a good reminder to me that I need to push myself to get out of my comfort zone, knock on a door, and say "Hi!".

Enjoy reading about other "small successes" at Catholicmom.com!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Sourdough

Sourdough baking is not a profound metaphor for anything. It is just something that I have recently discovered and am thoroughly enjoying. Since my last post generated a couple of questions about it, I thought I would offer some info.

First of all, I am a big time fan of King Arthur Flour. Even before I started sourdough baking, I only used King Arthur Flour. They are not paying me to say this. I just find everything I make is better when I use King Arthur Flour. I will tell you to shop around. I have seen huge swings in the price depending on what store I go to. Target seems to consistently have the best price. Note that you have to order a lot of the King Arthur extras from the web site since I have not been able to find them in the grocery stores.

The King Arthur Flour website also has the most amazing collection of recipes. If it is baked it is there. They also have a baker chat service to answer your baking questions on the spot. The blog and newsletter keep you up to date on all sorts of baking trends.

Which brings me to sourdough. As I was trying to think of what I wanted for my birthday, a recipe for sourdough pretzels showed up on the blog. Perfect! My husband ordered me the sourdough starter and the King Arthur crock to keep it in. Since he knew he was going to enjoy the fruits of my labors, he was more than happy to get me started.

Remember those electronic toys that were all the rage a few years ago? The ones that were like pets that you had to feed and play with on a regular basis? That is what sourdough starter is like. Within 24 hours of receiving the starter, you have to feed it with water and flour. Then at least once a week you need to feed it. Once it is established, you feed it by removing a cup of starter and replacing it with 1/2 a cup of water and a cup of flour. I keep my starter in the refrigerator so whenever I want to use it I have to allow time for it to warm up and get active. You can keep it on the countertop, but that means you have to be willing to feed it twice a day so that it doesn't go bad. Not happening at my house.

If you browse through the King Arthur Flour sourdough recipes, you will see that some call for fed starter and some call for unfed starter. If it calls for fed starter, you take your starter out of the refrigerator, feed it, let it sit on the counter until it warms up and looks bubbly, then use it. You can see that making anything sourdough requires some planning. However, there are lots of things that can be done with unfed starter. Remember that when you feed your starter, you have a cup of the unfed starter that you have removed. Some folks just toss it, but you can use it to make some of the most amazing pretzels, waffles, and dinner rolls so I can't bear to throw it away.

Here are a few tips on the recipes I have tried. The waffles use unfed starter but are not really a spur of the moment recipe. You have to let the waffle batter sit overnight. The pretzels are amazing. They have become a household staple. If you are going to order the starter from King Arthur Flour, go ahead and order the non-diastatic malt powder. It makes a huge difference in the browning and taste of the pretzels. It works much better than sugar. Also, you can use any coarse salt. I tried them with Kosher salt the first few times I made them. However, I ordered pretzel salt from here and like it much better. The dinner rolls are delicious and lend themselves to all sorts of variations. You can brush them with butter and garlic or whatever herb combination strikes your fancy. If you want to make them for a brunch buffet, try rolling them up with cheddar cheese and bits of bacon. The possibilities are endless.

Yesterday, I tried the whole grain loaf. Delicious! Again, if you are ordering the starter from King Arthur flour and you think you are going to want to try whole grain bread, go ahead and order the Harvest Grain blend. I also bought their Artisan Bread Topping but I think you could find something similar at a store like Whole Foods. I liked their Artisan Bread Topping just fine, but it does not look like it is anything unique to King Arthur Flour.

I use a breadmaker for making the dough. When I make the pretzels I add the ingredients and let the machine complete a full dough cycle. Take it out, shape the pretzels, brush with malt solution, and salt, then bake. For regular bread, either the rustic sourdough or the whole grain, I use the breadmaker to mix everything in to a dough, then put it in a bowl for rising.

If you look at most of these recipes you will see that you still need to add yeast. The result is a wonderfully flavorful bread with a great texture. However, it will not have that sharp tang that you associate with San Francisco sourdough. That is because the tang comes from the fermentation of the yeast and these recipes cut that short and add extra yeast to get the rise. If you want the tang, plan on a two day process and allow the starter to provide all the rise to your bread. I have not done that yet, but maybe I will give it a try. I have noticed that the flavor of my sourdough baked goods does get richer as my starter matures.

So there you have it. Let me know if you give sourdough baking a try. I would love to compare notes. Below you will see some of my creations. Rustic white sourdough, pretzels, and the whole grain sourdough boule.







Thursday, February 20, 2014

Small Successes February 20



Sometimes it is the little things we do that are the most important steps towards success

1. I received an order of seed packets today. Instead of just setting them aside and figuring I would get around to planting them sometime (and then remembering them sometime around May), I pulled out my seed starter kit and got them planted today. If all goes well, in 6-8 weeks I will have a good supply of tomato and pepper seedlings.

2. Used my sourdough starter to make whole grain sourdough bread. Conquering my fear of failure when I make yeast breads. It was very tasty!

3. Took a few minutes to be thankful for sunshine. It is a rare commodity these days so when it appears, it is good to pause and revel in it.

Go here to read about more small successes!

Boycott (fill in the blank)

We live in a fallen world and it seems nearly everything we touch is tainted by the sins of abortion, lust, human trafficking, failure to respect human dignity, a disordered understanding of marriage, etc. In the last few months I have seen calls to boycott Starbucks, Girl Scout cookies, Chevrolet, Coke, General Mills, and countless others. What is a Catholic to do?

My latest article at the HLI Truth & Charity Forum explores this question. I offer three points to consider when making a decision about product choices. First, will your purchase lead others to sin? This is what is meant by scandal. Secondly, will your boycott change the affected company's association with sin or prevent others from making that same association? Finally, is there a catechetical or evangelical impact from your boycott? Is it a teaching tool?

Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Can't we agree that women and men deserve better than this?

This interview published in the Criterion, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, is both heartwarming and heart breaking. It is inspiring to read about Marianne Anderson and her conversion to a pro-life viewpoint after working for over two years at the large Planned Parenthood facility in Indianapolis. Yet I feel grief when I read about the atrocities of the abortion industry.

The last statement in this interview should give us pause.

“The journey to abortion happens long before the girls show up at Planned Parenthood. These young girls who are 13, 14 years old—they’re looking for love and acceptance. By the time they get to Planned Parenthood, they’ve already been through some awful stuff.
“Where do you start educating these girls? High school? Junior high? It’s getting younger and younger.
“There’s something wrong with the family that this is happening, these single parent families, these dads in prison. The journey to prevent this starts way before they get to the door of any abortion center.” 
Perhaps, no matter where you fall on the question of abortion, we can agree that women are not empowered when they are objectified for sex. Unbridled sexual freedom actually enslaves women to the passions of men. Sex is not the same thing as love. Sexual exhibitionism demeans women. A father who loves and respects his wife and a wife who loves and respects her husband are the best teachers for daughters to learn the behavior they should expect from men and for sons to learn the appropriate way to treat women. Therefore, anything that undermines the family damages this fundamental educational process.

Abortion is not the answer. It is just another tragic symptom of the problem. If we outlawed abortion today we would not solve the problem. The problem is we dehumanize each other and treat each other as commodities to satisfy our own selfish desires. We throw away those who do not make us "happy". Sometimes it is the unborn. Sometimes it is the elderly. Sometimes it is the disabled. Sometimes it is a spouse. Sometimes it is those with whom we disagree. Somewhere our cultured decided that any person who makes us uncomfortable is "offensive" and must be marginalized, or even worse, eliminated.

A popular and very true pro-life slogan is, "Women deserve better than abortion". Wouldn't it be wonderful if our culture expanded this to, "All men and women deserve better than abortion. All men and women deserve better than euthanasia. All men and women are unique human persons who deserve to be cherished from the moment of their conception to the moment of their natural death."

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Blog Commenting Policy


Some of you may have noticed that I have comment moderation on my blog. The reason for this is trolls. I love good reasoned discussion and have no problems with civil disagreement. On the other hand, I have no time for those who add nothing to the discussion and come to just sling mud.

Slate now offers an article that explains why people troll:
The research, conducted by Erin Buckels of the University of Manitoba and two colleagues, sought to directly investigate whether people who engage in trolling are characterized by personality traits that fall in the so-called Dark Tetrad: Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others). 
It is hard to underplay the results: The study found correlations, sometimes quite significant, between these traits and trolling behavior. What’s more, it also found a relationship between all Dark Tetrad traits (except for narcissism) and the overall time that an individual spent, per day, commenting on the Internet.
I always suspected there was some pathology involved in trolling.

In any case, as far as my blog goes, here are some basic rules:

1. No anonymous posts. Now I can't stop you from making up multiple profiles and posting under multiple fake ID's. But you have to give yourself some name other than "anonymous"

2. No ad hominem attacks. Whether you are speaking about me, another commenter, or some individual mentioned in the story, I expect everyone to try to treat others with respect and dignity.

3. No profanity. The English language is rich enough to express any idea without resorting to profanity.

4. Stay on topic. Some folks just have to offer the same comment no matter what the subject of the post. Lots of times it is just the same worn out insult. So be it. It will be deleted, not published.

5. No spam. If you leave a link in the comment, it needs to be relevant. If you are trying to promote your own blog or web site, I understand. I did that when I first started blogging.  Just make sure the comment is at least tangentially related to my post. I will not publish a link to your Indian match-making site no matter now many times you leave a link on the posts I write about marriage.

6. Finally, it is my blog. I get to decide what is published and what is not published. If I think you are trolling or spamming, it will not show up here.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Catholic Parishes and the Boy Scouts

Now that the Boy Scouts of America have insisted that openly gay youth are allowed as members of the Boy Scouts, Catholic parishes need to rethink their relationship with the BSA. This is a more immediate problem for parishes that charter Scouts than for boys who are members of the troops. When a boy openly declares his homosexuality he is declaring his support for a lifestyle that is intrinsically disordered. Otherwise, why would he feel the need announce his sexual preferences to the world? This is problematic for a Catholic parish since this is in direct opposition to Church teaching. The Boy Scouts of America leave no room for the chartering organization to object to this normalization of homosexuality. In fact, by forcing chartering organizations to accept avowed homosexuals as members, the BSA is accepting homosexual behavior as a normal and healthy. This becomes all the more apparent if you read the reports on the first openly gay Scout to achieve the rank of Eagle.  I have written my response to this at the Truth & Charity Forum. Here is a snippet:

The award of Eagle Scout to Pascal Terrier suggests there is little room for faithful Catholics in the Boy Scouts of America. He has openly campaigned for the acceptance of homosexual Boy Scouts and continues to push for the acceptance of homosexual leaders. No one is allowed to question the appropriateness of his gay rights advocacy or object to the immorality of professed sexual desires. As an Eagle Scout, he is supposed to represent the pinnacle of moral character. How can a faithful Catholic member of Terrier’s troop attend this Eagle Scout ceremony and sit silently as the gay lifestyle is lauded and celebrated? For there is no doubt that this will be a celebration of homosexuality. The fact that Tessier’s rank of Eagle was featured in the Washington Post and the GLAAD newsletter with lots of discussion of his homosexuality and not a single mention of the service project he did to earn the rank of Eagle is evidence that his award is all about homosexuality and has very little to do with traditional Scouting ideals.
Please head on over to the Truth & Charity Forum and read the whole thing.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Praise, pride and envy



This is one of my favorite Family Circus cartoons and has been recirculating on Facebook lately. I think it is appropriate to consider the implications of this caption in light of the interesting discussions spawned by this post and the WaPo article that inspired it.

I seem to be in the minority of WaPo readers who believe that it is okay to have a pizza party with music to reward the students who made straight A's. Most of those opposed to this reward view the party as exclusionary to those who didn't make straight A's and therefore should be avoided. My argument is any reward is exclusionary. That is the point. We honor those who stand out on any given set of criteria. We exclude from honors those who don't. If an award is not exclusionary, it becomes meaningless.

If one reads the comments on the WaPo site, a great many comments begin with the phrase, "My child will never win this award because....." and you can fill in the blank with an assorted menu of phrases. He has a learning disability. She focuses on dance so she doesn't have the time to make straight A's. And of course there are those who don't see why we are honoring those driven "over-achievers". Making straight A's must be a sign of some sort of psychological pathology and we are hurting children by reinforcing it.

Which brings me to the cartoon above. All of these viewpoints are grounded in envy. My child will not get this award so I do not want anyone to get this award. They think that praising one child takes away from another. But this is not an end sum game. Honoring one child for getting straight A's does not take away from the recognition for athletic ability, artistic ability, character development, or improved performance.

Yes, some of the students who do not get to go to the dance will be disappointed. The job of parents is not to shield our children from disappointment. It is to help them learn from that disappointment. You didn't make straight A's. Why?  What would it take to make straight A's? Is the effort required worth the reward of this dance? Is making straight A's within your reach? If not, what is a suitable alternative goal. I will never be an Olympic athlete. That doesn't mean I think we should not hand out Gold Medals to those who are. Instead of shooting for the Olympics, I will try to get myself in good physical condition for the benefit of my health and I will cheer and clap loudly for those who are Olympians.

Let me tell you what happens to those students whose parents always told them that those who reach the highest level of achievement really don't deserve to be honored because they must have some unfair advantage. They show up in my college class and tell me their poor performance is due to their work schedule, the demands of being a single parent, their marital stress, etc and I should give them a grade higher than the one they earned because they have these challenges. Every semester I am confronted with at least one student who tells me this. I respond to them that it is unfair to assume that their challenges are somehow greater than those of their classmates and deserving of special consideration. I cannot change grades based on hardship stories.

These students then become adults who look at someone making more money than they do and whine, "That's not fair!" No matter that the other person is smarter, more talented, works harder, or is just luckier. Every inequality is an injustice.

We need to teach our children to be gracious winners. Those who excel academically should be encouraged to help those who do not. Those who excel athletically should help those who do not. Those who excel socially should help those who do not. But we also need to teach our children to be gracious when they come in second, third, fourth, or don't place at all. It is very sad when pride prevents the appreciation of excellence in others. Humility is not the same thing as humiliation.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Cut the cable!

My hubby is amazing. He just finished installing this antenna and we are getting great reception and an incredible number of channels. Who knew so many channels are actually broadcast over the airwaves and not just cable? We get NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, USA, ION, PBS, and a whole host of specialty channels. When he first talked about getting an antenna I was picturing the old aerial contraption from my childhood. Instead, this a flat pad that looks like a wired mouse pad.

A few months ago we got rid of cable TV and were streaming content to the television via the ROKU  or Chromecast. I already subscribed to Amazon Prime so we were getting plenty of streaming video content from that. I did splurge and subscribe to the ROKU channel Just Sports for $10 per month in order to get Spanish and Italian soccer which were no longer available on our cable stations anyway.  While we were getting rid of things we also got rid of land lines. We still get cable internet. All in all, we are saving $120 per month by cutting the cable cord. We thought we were going to have to give up live sports that could not be streamed via Wiziwig.com or the ROKU, but now with the antenna we will get most of what we had before. We miss out on ESPN, but we were not getting $100 per month worth of content from ESPN to justify keeping cable.

My only regret is that we didn't do this years ago!

Lessons when you win and when you don't

I wrote a response to this article in the Washington Post. The article is a about a middle school in Silver Spring, Maryland that is having a dance and pizza party for students who made straight A's. There are those who feel this humiliates the students who did not make straight A's. They are concerned it is divisive and can lead to increased bullying. I think it is damaging to avoid honoring high achievers because we are afraid we will hurt the feeling of those who don't reach that level of achievement. My response to this article was:

Those wringing their hands over rewarding straight-A students at Eastern Middle School with a dance and pizza need to ask themselves if they really want the equal-in-the-extreme world of the Kurt Vonnegut Jr. story “Harrison Bergeron.”  
Should the school district seek to keep athletes from wearing letter jackets or other team clothing? After all, doesn’t this just rub salt in the wounds of all those who didn’t make the team? Would it require everyone to wear shapeless clothing so no one will know who is fat and who is thin? 
Each person has his or her own complement of strengths and weaknesses. We should be raising our children to have the character to recognize and celebrate the success of others without feeling themselves diminished. Shielding our children from excellence gives them nothing to shoot for but mediocrity.
You can read my response as well as four others here. Note that mine is the only response in favor of the dance.

I am not without empathy for the difficulties of middle school. My memories of middle school are painful. I was physically an early bloomer so I was a little bit taller and a little curvier than my peers. I had bad complexion, thick dark plastic rimmed glasses, and buck teeth. Given my pubescent awkwardness I was not particularly popular. I had friends, but I was not a cheerleader or athlete. Still, I ran for student council office. As I am standing on stage giving my campaign speech before the entire school, friends of my opponent have climbed up to the stage lighting and are dropping confetti down behind me like snow making the entire assembly laugh. I had no idea why everyone is laughing at my carefully crafted and serious speech.  So yes, I am very aware and sensitive to the potential cruelty of middle school students.

I also know what it means to struggle to get an A in a class. Put me in any academic class and I was a star. Put me in gym class and I was a fish out of water. Principal's Honor Roll was the recognition for making straight As. I wanted that award but PE was a graded class so the first quarter I didn't make it. PE was graded on performance, not just effort. The second quarter was gymnastics. Let me be clear. I have never, ever been built like a gymnast. Yet in order to make an A in gym class, I would have to master the cartwheel, round-off, head-stand to forward roll, hand-stand to forward roll, back bend to back walk-over and a front walk-over. Every single day for weeks I came home, moved the living room furniture and practiced these rudimentary gymnastics skills.  Through sheer determination, I made it. I have never worked so hard for an A in a class in my entire life. The memory of that herculean effort has stayed with me for over forty years.

Perhaps because of these experiences I support the pizza party/dance reward for academic achievement. The principal of this school made clear that there are other school dances that include the whole student body and other recognition programs that honor effort and improvement.  I think the worries about bullying are overblown. Do you really think the math geeks are going to lord their ability to recite the number Pi out to twenty digits over the football jocks? (assuming that the math geeks are not also the football jocks. The two categories are not automatically mutually exclusive) And if you avoid honoring high academic achievers because you are afraid of making them the victims of bullies, you allow the entire school district to be bullied.

Why would we want to teach our children to respond, "That's not fair!" instead of "Congratulations!" when someone excels? Why should we assume that they will be demoralized if they do not win top honors?  Do we really want to suggest the response to quit instead of work harder is the expected response? I think all this coddling just reinforces insecurities and low self-esteem. I want my children to be strong enough to see great achievements by others without feeling bad about themselves. We can't all be computer geniuses. We can't all be Olympians. But we can all be kind, compassionate, and generous. We should all learn to apply these virtues in both victory and defeat. Starting these lessons in middle school is not too early.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

No life is better than adversity in life?

This evening my husband and I found ourselves alone for dinner so we decided to treat ourselves to a bite to eat at the local Lebanese cafe. It is a small place so it is easy to hear snatches of conversations at nearby tables without even trying.

A couple about our age was seated close by. They were talking politics and not at all concerned that someone might hear them or disagree with their views. Let's just say I am pretty sure our votes cancel out theirs. The woman eventually declared, "I just can't see how anyone cannot be pro-choice. In my years of teaching I have seen so many children in bad family situations and it would have been much better if they had never been born." As she described one of these situations to her dinner partner, it became clear that this woman teaches high school at the school from which my children graduated. The child she thought should never have seen the light of day was a sixteen year old boy who felt unwanted by his mother and her new live-in boyfriend.

I did not jump into her private conversation and try to offer a defense of life. I merely offered a silent prayer that she may one day see the value of all lives. But I just can't stop thinking about her thought process. Based on the adversity she sees in these children's lives she thinks it would be better if they had they never been born. I would love to sit down with her and sort through her reasoning. How much is too much suffering? What kind of suffering does she think justifies snuffing out unborn lives? If she knew a child would develop a serious illness in the future would she also recommend that child be aborted? Does she really believe there is no hope for redemption from a challenging childhood and these children are lost causes? If the potential for suffering justifies abortion, does suffering during adulthood justify euthanasia?

It is actually unnerving to realize that this woman teaches high school students and very well could have taught my children yet thinks that children are disposable. She judges her students and those whose lives are plagued with difficulties are, in her eyes, unworthy of life. I do not expect nor want teachers to be surrogate parents for students, but every child is worthy of love and respect. If he does not get it at home, one would hope that a teacher could be an adult in his life that shows him he is valuable and his life is valuable. They do not need to be held in contempt for having been born.