Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cadaver Shows: Voyeuristic or Educational?

A friend of mine just sent me this news article, announcing that France has banned a controversial human body exhibit, primarily because the producers of the show can't verify the origin of the bodies.

This exhibit, though inspired by the internationally known "Body Worlds" creator and inventor of plastination, Gunther von Hagens, is not one of his shows. He knows better than to skimp on the paper trail. He's got the paper trail down to a science. He doesn't even have to rely on the Chinese to provide him bodies since he's already got a list of over 6,500 mostly Europeans who hope to donate their bodies to him once they've slipped this mortal coil. Heck, 60% of the men and 30% of the women have even consented to let him display their bodies copulating or mixing their bodies with parts of an animal's to create a mythological creature.

Back in 2006, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science proudly announced it would be hosting the hugely prosperous traveling exhibit known as "Body Worlds."

At the time, we had a family membership and we would receive advance notice of new exhibits. I was shocked when I read about the upcoming exhibit. You see, we had lived in England from 2000 to 2003 and during that time I'd heard of von Hagens in rather unflattering terms. He was a showman who relished controversy and exhibited his corpses in art museum and erotic shows. "Body Worlds" promised to be a scientific show that would help people of all ages understand and appreciate the wondrous workings of the human body. The museum ethics board, which consisted of representatives from all the major faith groups in the Denver area, including the Archdiocese of Denver, declared it was morally fine because von Hagens had carefully preserved his paper trail showing all the bodies to be displayed had been lawfully obtained. What more could we ask?

I don't know whether or not the ethics panel asked other moralistic questions at the time, such as whether or not it was prudent to display human bodies in various poses including a reclining pregnant woman with her womb sliced open and the unborn baby visible inside. Human bodies, naked, but without skin, displayed for all to see.

I wrote to the director of the museum. I wrote to Archbishop Chaput. I wrote to Dr. Marilyn Coors, a Catholic and ethicist at the University of Colorado. I also wrote an opinion piece for the Denver Rocky Mountain News, which they published in February 27, 2006, in which I compared the "Body Worlds" exhibit to pornography; they both reduce the human person to a collection of body parts. It was only after my opinion piece was published that I heard back from anyone. And the only one I heard from was a publicist from the museum who called to ask me if I would reconsider my request for a refund of my membership which they offered to extend beyond the closing of the "Body Worlds" exhibit. (I accepted).

The day after my opinion piece was published I got a call from a reporter at the Rocky Mountain News. He wanted to ask me some questions about my views. Apparently I was one of only a few who objected to the exhibit. (One of only seven, I'm told). Even the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver was an official supporter of the exhibit and a spokesman for the archbishop is quoted as saying, "...[Von Hagens] should just shut the hell up because he's hurting himself and everybody who's trying to get something good out of this exhibit."

By the way, after Pope John Paul II died, von Hagens offered to plastinate his corpse. The Church declined the offer. Guess they couldn't find anything good about the offer.

None of this really matters to von Hagens because he lives for controversy. Despite some who want him to "shut the hell up," he just keeps going and going and going. The greater the controversy, the better. He put on an erotic show in the red-light district of Amsterdam and invited prostitutes and taxi drivers to come to the show free of charge. Last year, he opened another erotic show in Berlin. His newest displays of shock and awe at first spark controversy, then the furor dies down and he goes on to create something more shocking the next time around. Lady Gaga has announced she will go on tour early next year with some of his cadavers (singing back-up? At least she doesn't have to worry about them upstaging her!) Von Hagens is now selling human body parts by mail order. Not even the Nazis did that. (Although they purportedly made things like lampshades out of Jews' skin). And von Hagens' latest pet project is to open a home for the terminally ill, called the Villa of the Last Breath, where the terminal residents have agreed to let people watch them die.But we're supposed to believe the von Hagens' supporters who proclaim that he's doing his work "for humanity" and his motives are to promote the "democratization of anatomy." For the children's sake.

It's not about the millions and millions of dollars. Really.

Statue of St. Bartholomew, with his own skin, by Marco d'Agrate, 1562 (Duomo di Milano)
from Wikipedia article on St. Bartholomew the Apostle
Perhaps the reason over 30 million people worldwide have flocked to see the corpse shows is because they've lost a sense of the sacred. No more do we reverence the holy saints who died for the faith, whose relics have been preserved for two millennia. Instead, we embrace the cult of the soul-less bodies, and deny them humanity. Christians long ago revered those who died for the faith, such as St. Bartholomew, who is often depicted holding his own skin, since his manner of death was being flayed alive. If you look at ancient depictions of St. Bartholomew, it's amazing how much they resemble the modern day flayed bodies von Hagens takes on the road. But each von Hagens' corpse bears a sign with only von Hagens' name, the artist who created him; individual humanity has been stripped away and replaced with anonymity.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, "As the Church drops certain practices and ideals, the world picks them up and secularizes them. As the rosary is dropped, hippies put them around their necks; as nuns drop the long habits, girls put on maxi-coats; as mysticism is forgotten, youths go in for psychedelic experiences; as Christ is dropped, the theater restores Him as a superstar." Fulton John Sheen (1895-1979), Those Mysterious Priests [1974] 

I would add, as we forget the corporal works of mercy--feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, shelter the homeless, visit the sick and bury the dead--the world will pick them up and secularize them.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Family Happenings, or Why I've Been Neglecting the Blog, Update #2

The garden is still half overgrown with weeds. I haven't even attempted to plant anything. Very sad. But life has been crazy busy this summer. Perhaps unusually so with a dear husband working on an intensive PhD program, two successive French exchange students, an engagement and another daughter discerning the religious life.

My life, for now, has been preoccupied with taking care of children, dogs, adult children, a cat, a husband and trying to stay cool in the heat. We've had two medical issues to deal with (successfully avoiding surgery twice!), major car repairs (there goes the new floor fund), a bathroom remodel, two kids sent off to camp and I've finished helping with our regional Catholic Home Education conference. I'm hoping life will be getting back to a more measured pace soon.

Isn't it always the way it goes? You think life will give you a break and slow down in the next phase, but it ends up speeding up, changing direction or just going berserk. Learning to live in the moment, taking each day as it comes and seeing the joy and beauty of creation in all things is what keeps me from going totally schizoid.

1st degree black belt Bernadette, red belt Mom and 2nd degree black belt Edmund.
Oh, and I got my red belt in taekwondo. Being able to kick, punch and yell, "AYEEE YAAA!" can also be very comforting.

Family Happenings, or Why I've Been Neglecting the Blog

Note: I wrote up the following entry some time ago, in June, to explain to a few curious readers why I haven't been blogging.

I love summertime! I can usually be found working in my large vegetable garden, ignoring all other household chores. This summer, however, has proven difficult to find time to devote to my gardening passion. I now have several hundred square feet of 3-4 foot tall weeds that I first must eradicate before I can plant anything. All my seedlings, which I had started indoors in March, suffered from neglect and died. But I can't give up hope. There's always the garden center where I can spend oodles of money to buy lovely tomato and pepper plants and I still have some hope that I can plant some seeds and get something from my patch of dirt.
The dignitaries: Fr. Mitch Pacwa was the graduation speaker at Franciscan University of Steubenville (third from the left, looking down)

There are many excuses I could give for my lack of attention to the garden this summer. Perhaps the best excuse is that the month of May began with a 1450 mile drive (each way) to Steubenville, Ohio, to see the eldest son, Pier, graduate from Franciscan University. He finished his computer science degree (cum laude AND with honors, having completed the Honors Program). Seems like just the other day he was graduating from high school!

We got him and all his gear loaded up on the morning of Mother's Day, then drove for two days home. He was home for only two weeks before he left for his summer internship in Maryland. (Prayers for full-time employment much appreciated!)

the happy grad
Before he left I was able to get his help moving his older sister out of her apartment and into our garage. That is, her stuff was moved into our garage. We don't have a basement, so our oversized garage has become the main storage for our two college grads as they are transitioning into new phases in their lives, as well as our two college gals who have much of their childhood mementos stored in our garage along with all the various and sundry other artifacts one collects when one has ten children. (Why else would we have a dozen or so bicycles in the garage?)

After dear son left, we had to drive 70 miles north to move our next dear daughter, Kateri, from her old basement apartment to her new second story apartment. Fortunately, my dear husband didn't have a class for his PhD that particular Saturday.

Corpus Christi procession in downtown Denver
Next big event was oldest daughter, Maria, getting engaged, followed by her early morning departure to Maryland to begin her summer internship. She returned a mere five days later (for a weekend only) to be the sponsor for her youngest sister Bernadette's confirmation. It was a beautiful Mass with Archbishop Chaput, followed by a very traditional and lovely outdoor Corpus Christi procession around the church building in busy downtown Denver. Later that very same day our first of two French exchange students arrived for a three week stay.

sight seeing at Red Rocks park with one of our French exchange students

An Atheist Conversion Story--LOL!

The Loser LettersThe Loser Letters by Mary Eberstadt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With biting satire and dark humor, Mary Eberstadt puts a new twist on the C.S. Lewis classic, The Screwtape Letters. In this particular tale, A.F. (A Former) Christian writes a series of letters to the top brass in the Atheist world, e.g. Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, et al.

The "Loser" in the story is the same Person as the Enemy in Screwtape, i.e. God. Once the reader gets one's head around the fact that this story is topsy-turvy, and it's actually a compliment to be called a "loser," a "crackpot," a "Dull," "unspeakably treacherous," "dangerous," or "mortal enemy," then one begins to fully appreciate the wickedly brilliant sense of humor of Mrs. Eberstadt. And she is not afraid to name names. Besides addressing her letters to her BFFs (Best Friends Forever) in the atheist world and calling them by name: "Messrs. Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, Onfray, Stenger and Others" she also names some of the greatest enemies of atheism: John Paul II, G.K. Chesterton, Fulton Sheen, Elizabeth Anscombe, Mother Teresa, Kit Carson, Dorothy Sayers, Alec Guinness, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Mortimer Adler, Evelyn Waugh, Malcom Muggeridge, Graham Greene, Hilaire Belloc, T.S. Eliot, Robert P. George, Michael Novak, George Weigel, Bernard Nathanson, Antony Flew, Richard John Neuhaus, Germain Grisez, C.S. Lewis, Dinesh D'Souza, David Berlinski and the sonagram machine, to name just a few.

To give you just a taste of her rare wit, here's a sentence...yes, just one sentence, for you to ponder:

You see, if everything You guys and the rest of the Brights said is true; if we Humans really are just some tiny animate fungus on a somewhat larger rock of some kind, however statistically improbable, just orbiting one of those billions and billions of stars that Forebear Carl Sagan liked to talk about; if there really is nothing behind us and nothing ahead, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing at all; if You guys and the other Atheists are right, and all Loser's poets, builders, painters, prophets, believers, and apologists stretching back over three millennia are wrong; if no one else really is watching us, or caring about any of us at all; well then, in this whole random cosmic rave of matter and antimatter, space and time, that just dwarfs every last thing any one of us will ever be or think or do--if that's really what we're talking about here, then one little elective medical procedure, one teeny-tiny exercise of a woman's right to choose by one very insignificant human female like A.F. Christian, shouldn't matter much to anyone, anywhere, ever at all.

Brilliant, isn't it?

And on the wide-range of atheist opinions on the morality of abortion, she gives this adroit observation:

At first, I have to admit, I didn't quite get why everybody should be so North-Korean-election-lopsided about this. After all, we Atheists are supposed to be Freethinkers. We do disagree about some important things, like--well, like nothing I can think of offhand, but I'm sure there's something we don't all think alike about, somewhere. This issue isn't one of them, though.

It is a pleasure to read a book that promotes deep-thinking, yet is easy to read. The ending is satisfying, yet leaves you hungry for more. Thankfully, the author has given us a list of "enemies" from whose work we can choose.

View all my reviews >>

Monday, May 24, 2010

Top 100 Twitter feeds for Homeschoolers

Check it out: My Twitter feed, which is linked to this blog, has been listed in the Top 100 Twitter Feeds for Homeschoolers!  

A big thank you to for the mention.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Of Truth and Beauty

God made both Truth and Beauty, yet we humans have managed to confuse these two so that they’re not always clear cut and easy to spot.

Before I was Catholic I wasn’t even sure there was such a thing as objective Truth. I was more of a subjective Truth-seeker. If it seems true to you, then it must be true to you. If it seems true to me (even if my truth is different from yours) then it must be true to me. After all, who are we to claim Divine knowledge and say that we alone have the Truth, and others who are trying to follow God have mistakenly interpreted the scriptures and they only “think” their interpretations are True? But, since there can’t be multiple “Truths” and Truth can’t contradict Truth, there must be one Truth, which means other interpretations are wrong.

But that’s not really what I wanted to write about today. What I wanted to write about today is much more down-to-earth, with only a hint of philosophical edge to it. I want to write about Beauty.

God’s creation is beautiful. He has written beauty into the framework of His creation: from the celestial bodies that we view on a clear summer’s night, to the microscopic designs of a DNA strand; from the fragrant smell of lilacs on a warm spring day to the cool and soothing sounds of a waterfall splashing in a forest glade. Who doesn’t love puppies? Or babies? God’s creation is evident in new life and most of us delight in watching young puppies romp in the pet store window or children blowing soap bubbles. I doubt if we would find much disagreement among people that these things are beautiful.

But I have a problem with beauty when it is dictated by popular culture; specifically when it refers to girls and women and how we should look. Despite 50 years or more of “women’s liberation,” beauty pageants and fashion shows are still popular ways of stereotyping women’s beauty. Perhaps it’s because I’m now approaching 50 myself that I’m finally comfortable enough with my own skin to go on record as opposing these objectifications of women. Yet part of me is still imprisoned by society’s dictations. I still want to lose 20 pounds. I still wear make-up and “do” my hair. I still spend more time mulling over “how I look” than my husband does.

Some programs are trying to make inroads into this issue. Groups like Pure Fashion started out with a noble objective: Help young girls see that true beauty comes from within and that our choices in clothing should reflect that inner beauty. But I’m troubled by the amount of money these girls are asked to invest in their accessories, hair and make-up for these modesty fashion shows. I’m also distressed when I see most of the girls who are chosen to model look very similar to the girls you’d see in a typical teen fashion magazine. Once again, a program whose goal was to transform the idea of beauty reinforces the stereotypical idea of beauty. If that wasn’t enough, the spokeswoman for Pure Fashion herself is drop-dead gorgeous. Tall (5’9”), blonde, size 8 (yes, I read her comps on her website). She’s not just a former fashion model, she IS a fashion model who is married to a model and has three model kids. (Yes, I found that on her website as well).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it’s bad to be drop-dead gorgeous. Personally, I’d love to look like her. But that’s the problem. I want my girls to be beautiful from the inside out and not spend inordinate amounts of time or money on making a beautiful façade for the world’s pleasure. I want them to spend inordinate amounts of time making their inner-selves beautiful for God’s pleasure.

I don’t know if women will ever be able to dispose of our preoccupation with outward so-called beauty. We instinctively want to please men (and perhaps prove to other women we’re not homely). Yet, there are hopeful signs. There are young orders of women religious who shun fashionable attire, make-up and hair-dos and don simple habits that somehow transform them all into radiant beauties.

I’m still trying to figure out what true Beauty is. I know it when I see it in creation, but I’m still trying to figure out how to apply that to my life as a woman who wants to look like a 20-something fashion model even into her 50’s and beyond. I fear I may be focusing on the wrong aspect of Beauty. My husband tells me I’m beautiful…even on those days when I don’t feel very beautiful at all. He’ll even tell me I’m beautiful when I wake up in the morning and my hair is wonked up and my eyes are puffy. Maybe he sees something in me that we all need to see within ourselves.

There you have it: the convoluted ramblings of a woman who wants to look like a fashion model but doesn’t want to want to look like a fashion model or have her daughters aspire to look like fashion models.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Obamacare will actually save money

...and global warming is a serious issue we must stop in our lifetime.

Here's the best response to this drivel I've seen:

Monday, April 26, 2010


Shock and Awe

My husband just started a PhD program in systems engineering. The nice thing about it is he gets to do it from his jammies! (A homeschoolers dream PhD.) He has two live classes every Saturday from 9 to 5 that he views online along with students from across the globe. Welcome to the 21st century.

The students can see the professors via a live video feed, but they can't see each other. Thus, for his presentation next Saturday he has decided to put up a picture of himself. I tried to convince him to let me take a professional shot, but he opted for the "casual Dad" look and is going to use the picture from my blog. You know, the one where you can hardly see him peeking out from behind all those people. I'm thinking stealth mode would be way better, but he's all for the "shock and awe" approach.

I didn't know you could do that!

Last night I convinced my dear husband to take a break from his homework overload and take me out swing dancing. I had promised a friend we'd help chaperone at her daughter's 16th birthday celebration which was held at a grungy-looking New Age cafe near Denver's largest homeless shelter. Yes, the place looks creepy on the outside, but on Sunday nights they have all-age dancing and free dance lessons before the live band plays swing tunes.

It was pouring rain and we were tired by the time we left the house for downtown. When we got there, we realized we didn't have the right change for the parking meter, so we first went inside to get change. Within minutes of my husband leaving to pay for the parking, an older gentleman asked me to dance. I was totally taken off-guard and politely declined his request. I was also slightly embarrassed for being asked to dance. I didn't want to look like I was there looking for a date! Later, I realized that most of the gentlemen who were there dancing seemed to be looking for a dance partner rather than any long-term commitment. Still, it was the first time I'd been asked to dance by a total stranger since I was single!

To make a long story short, we had a great time dancing and had the best compliment from our 14 year-old daughter, when she said, "I didn't know you guys could swing dance!"

We can't really swing dance. We just fake it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

St. Padre Pio: The Holy Man of the Gargano

Padre Pio: The True Story Padre Pio: The True Story by Bernard C. Ruffin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When I was a naval officer stationed in Naples, Italy in the late 1980's, my fiancé and I once took a road trip eastward, across the boot of Italy, just to see what was on the other side. Our destination was the Gargano peninsula, the odd-shaped "spur" of the boot that sticks out into the Adriatic Sea and an ancient sea port called Manfredonia.

View Larger Map

On our way there,we saw a huge billboard with a picture of a gray-haired priest, with his hands wrapped in bandages. The billboard said something in Italian roughly translated, "See San Giovanni Rotondo! The home of Padre Pio!"

"Who's Padre Pio?" I asked my fiancé.

"Some priest--I think he has the stigmata," was my beloved's reply.

We drove on.

Several years later I finally learned who Padre Pio was. I read Padre Pio: The True Story. My own copy was published in 1982 and it was perhaps 1990 when I read it. I think it's time for a re-reading.

I pulled it off the shelf yesterday, (when I was writing the post about guardian angels) blew the dust off the cover and began randomly reading it. I'm not sure what is more amazing about this book; the stories of bi-locutions, miraculous healings and spiritual warfare that gives Padre Pio bruises, or the fact that this book was written by a devout Lutheran pastor, C. Bernard Ruffin.

I compared the introduction in my 1982 version with the introduction (available on Google books) in the 1991 revised and expanded edition. I noticed Ruffin left out this section in the new edition:

"My experience in visiting San Giovanni Rotondo--seeing the tomb of Padre Pio, visiting his cell, being shown where he heard confessions and where he ate in the friary refectory--was similar to that of visiting Mount Vernon or Monticello, or like my visit to the sites associated with the founder of my own denomination, Martin Luther, in East Germany..."

I suppose if we had pulled off the main highway and driven to San Giovanni Rotondo that day, I would have had a similar experience. I wasn't Catholic and I really had no clue what the stigmata was or why I should even care about Padre Pio.

Since Ruffin left that section out of the newer edition, I can only assume his thoughts had changed or he decided it didn't matter what his personal thoughts were. What mattered was his telling of the facts surrounding the life of Padre Pio.

I'm putting the new edition on my "to read" list because this is a powerful story that is worth re-reading. And if I ever get back to southern Italy, you can bet I'm taking the detour to San Giovanni Rotondo! Home of Padre Pio!

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Of Fairies and Guardian Angels

Fra Angelico. The Last Judgement. Detail: The Blessed. c.1431. Tempera on wood. 105 x 210 cm. Museo di San Marco, Florence, Italy. 

I grew up a non-church-going Protestant with proper Protestant sensibilities. At least I think that's what I had.

I believed in Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny and had nightmares that the Big Bad Wolf was going to eat me. In my mind, this fairy-tale world was quite real and alive to me and no one could've convinced me otherwise.

Until the day I found out who really brought the presents at Christmas and replaced my baby tooth with a shiny coin and left me a big chocolate bunny on Easter morning. To say I was crushed is putting it mildly.

Nevertheless, deep within the recesses of my mind I still had the notion of something unseen that was real. Something or someone other than God (whom I knew without a doubt was real) would whisper cautions or give me sudden course corrections. I believe the Holy Spirit leads us and guides us, but this notion I had persisted alongside my belief in the guidance of the Holy Spirit. For as long as I remember, I've had a deeply felt belief in a guardian angel who protected me on more than one occasion. Until now, I've only spoken about it to a very few people besides my husband and kids.

Keep in mind--I had never been taught this by anyone as far as I know. My belief in guardian angels persisted even when I was an adult Protestant with anti-Catholic tendencies. I knew that some being had stopped that car from hitting me when I was riding my bike on a crowded street in Annapolis with roads barely wide enough for cars. I knew that someone had caused my friend to hit the brakes on her car just in time to avoid a collision with another vehicle when I was in the car with her. And I have very vivid memories of driving home from a 12+ hour shift in Naples, Italy when I had a bad case of the flu and a raging fever and all I wanted to do was go home and go to bed and I entered a tunnel on the Tangenziale then a woke suddenly just as my car was exiting the tunnel and crossing several lanes of traffic. Someone had wakened me. I knew it and I said "Thank you!" aloud to whomever it was and I made it home safely with my heart beating wildly with the sudden knowledge that I had nearly died had it not been for my guardian angel. After each of these incidents my first and foremost thought was that my guardian angel had saved me.

I never spoke these thoughts to anyone until after I had been a Catholic for several years. I was married with three children, and I was out of the Navy and living in Virginia. I was visiting with some other Catholic moms with young children and I said something to the effect of, "It's too bad guardian angels are just a fairy tale. It would be so wonderful if they were real." (See, that's what my conscious mind would always tell my subconscious mind once the adrenaline would wear off after one of my "near death" experiences).

My two friends looked at me like I was crazy. They laughed and said, "But they are real!"

I was stunned, but delighted to hear the news.

Nevertheless, I needed verification of this information since my Protestant Bible-only-as-proof beliefs still told me I had to have some scriptural proof of this in order to really believe it. It didn't take very long before I read that Matthew 18:10 is the passage generally cited as evidence that each of us has a personal guardian angel. I know many Protestants don't accept that idea or even see it as a necessity because if God is for us, who can be against us? Of course, God doesn't need to give us guardian angels. He doesn't need to give us parents or teachers either. He could have just made us as fully functioning adults, or as quickly maturing adults rather than children for 18 years. Wouldn't that have made more sense? Why spend 18 years (or more) of our short human lives being dependent on another? But He made us dependent on parents and teachers to help us mature to adulthood.

I don't know why it is part of God's divine plan to give us guardian angels. But the thought of it gives me joy and helps me to know I am always looked after and will there will always be someone there to watch over me. I like the fact that not only does each of us have a guardian angel, but sometimes cities and nations do as well. When I was pregnant, I felt rather blessed because I had two guardian angels, since one of them was my unborn child's. I thought it would be super neat to be carrying twins, because then I could walk around with three guardian angels tagging along.

Parents, make full use of your children's guardian angels. They can be invoked to watch kids (along with the babysitter) when you're not around, or to keep an eye on sick kids when you're asleep, or help kids find missing shoes when they're running late for school, or even help your college kids stay safe when they're hundreds of miles away from home.

I like to tell my kids some of the stories of St. Padre Pio's guardian angel, whom he could see from the time he was a small boy. Pio often had no one to play with, but "Little Boy" would come and talk to him and play with him. Young Pio knew Little Boy was his guardian angel and he just assumed everyone could see and hear their guardian angel. When Padre Pio grew into adulthood and became a Catholic priest, Little Boy stayed the same and would still come to him and talk to him. (You can read more about St. Pio in C. Bernard Ruffin's book, Padre Pio: The True Story. By the way, Ruffin is a Lutheran minister.)

Here's what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about angels:

The angels in the life of the Church

In the meantime, the whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels.201
In her liturgy, the Church joins with the angels to adore the thrice-holy God. She invokes their assistance (in the funeral liturgy's In Paradisum deducant te angeli . . . ["May the angels lead you into Paradise . . ."]). Moreover, in the "Cherubic Hymn" of the Byzantine Liturgy, she celebrates the memory of certain angels more particularly (St. Michael, St. Gabriel, St. Raphael, and the guardian angels).
From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession.202 "Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life."203 Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.

Catholics believe we each have a guardian angel assigned to us from the first moment of our conception. And I don't think I'm stretching it when I say from the first moment of our conception since we believe the soul is infused into the tiny person at the first moment of conception, it makes sense to me that the tiny person also has a guardian angel. The actual birth is just an event in the life of the person but it is not the birth that makes one a person. Angels, being pure spirits, don't have the limitations of time and space that we do. They are God's messengers and our guardians. What a tremendous help we have in all our struggles! As a mom, I depend upon my guardian angel, especially when I've had a sick child and I'm exhausted. I can sleep soundly knowing my guardian angel will wake me if I am needed. My guardian angel doesn't have to sleep!

I know all this may sound as crazy as fairies to some. Yet there is so much more to life than what we see and know now. "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (1 Corinthians 13:12.)

Our Catholic tradition tells us that when we die we will finally get to meet our guardian angel and he will lead us joyfully into heaven, telling us all about our countless near misses and we will realize just how tenderly our Heavenly Father cares for us.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Creative Punishment

Have you ever sent your kids to bed without dinner? I've always felt that was too extreme (even though my husband insists he survived to adulthood despite an occasional missed meal). I've been known to slip the kid a glass of milk or a piece of bread when such punishment is warranted.

This, however, is something I can really sink my teeth into. The dramatic flourishes are what makes it so wonderful..."serve on steel prison tray."

My eldest sent me this link and it is too good not to share. The chef describes the recipe as such: "Barely nutritional meal suitable for all miscreant children."

Love it!

Your Kids Time out Lunch

Friday, April 02, 2010

Good Friday--Kiss the Cross

Who would believe what we have heard? To whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

He grew up like a sapling before him, like a shoot from the parched earth; There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him.

He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, One of those from whom men hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem.

Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, While we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.

We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; But the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all.

Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth.
Isaiah 53:1-7

We were very fortunate today to be able to attend a beautifully reverent and somber Good Friday Commemoration of the Lord's Passion and Veneration of the Cross at Holy Ghost Church this afternoon.

This is the second day of the Triduum, the three days preceding Easter. These are some of the most beautiful liturgies in the Church. I am especially moved by the veneration of the cross, when the faithful are invited up to kiss the crucifix.

That reminds me of a story. Several years ago, two of my girls, Kateri and Lizzy, were preparing for the sacrament of confirmation. Their teacher was a young and very fit professional firefighter for the city of Denver. He could be rather intimidating sometimes because he didn't go for the type of confirmation class that involves playing "icebreaker" games or getting the kids to talk about themselves. I'm not even sure if he asked the kids to introduce themselves and I don't remember him smiling a whole lot, but I think that's because he took his job of preparing kids for confirmation very seriously.

I used to sit in on all the classes and listen to him talk while my fingers were busy knitting something. It was such a blessing for me to be able to sit in on that class and hear his stories. Sometimes he would talk passionately about his job as a firefighter. He would tell us about how a firefighter has to go into a dark and smokey building, and he has to rely on his protective clothing and his oxygen to keep him from being overcome with smoke. But sometimes he might run out of oxygen and be overcome by smoke and fall down unconscious. He might have a buddy who has to find him in the darkness, grab him by the ankles and pull him to safety, saving his life. He might wake up and find he is safe and well, having no memories of the danger he was in, or the buddy who pulled him from death into life. But he really owes his life to his fellow firefighter. Whether or not he acknowledges it, his life has been restored because of the actions of another firefighter. "That is exactly what Jesus did for us," he would say. "He saved us from death, even when we didn't know we needed to be saved. We owe him our lives."

Another time, he talked about the importance of owning a crucifix and hanging it in a prominent spot. He said, "One morning, you'll wake up, stumble out of bed to get your cup of coffee and you'll walk right past the crucifix hanging there on the wall. Then, maybe after you've had a cup of coffee, you'll wake up and you'll see the crucifix, with Jesus hanging there and you'll say, 'Wow! Jesus! I owe you my life!' And you'll go over and kiss the crucifix. You won't be able to stop it. You'll have to kiss him." Here was this big and burly firefighter telling a bunch of puny teenagers they would be unable to pass a crucifix without kissing it. I was always transfixed when he spoke. It was almost as if he had one foot in heaven and he really understood what it meant to love Jesus. I'm so thankful my girls had the chance to have Dan Pittaluga for a teacher.

When Archbishop Chaput came to confirm the kids, he spent about a half hour or so talking with them in the basement of the church before the confirmation Mass. The archbishop liked to quiz the kids who were going to be confirmed, to make sure they really knew their stuff. Archbishop Chaput commented that they were one of the best prepared classes he'd ever seen. And it was all thanks to Dan, who taught them well, without fun and games. It was also one of the most compacted confirmation classes my kids have ever attended. The class met every week for about three months. And he didn't even have them go on retreat!

That would be the last confirmation class Dan taught because he died suddenly and quite unexpectedly of a heart attack a few months later, leaving a wife and several young children behind. I can imagine him in heaven, walking up to Jesus and saying, "Wow! Jesus! I owe you my life...and here I am!"

Still Learning How to Homeschool

I've been wrestling with thoughts of making big changes in our homeschooling for the next school year. No, we weren't thinking of sending our kids to school. In fact, we were thinking of eliminating some outside classes they've been taking for the past seven years. (Like I said, big changes!) My husband and I discuss whether or not we need to make changes nearly every year. As homeschooling parents, we are all too aware of our own deficiencies and those of our children. We know who needs to work on their grammar or penmanship or reading. But this year I felt more unease than usual and felt a stronger than usual desire to make radical changes to the way we've grown accustomed. That is, I wanted to bring my kids home and just do school without any outside distractions.

That's great when you have little kids or very docile children. Mine are neither little nor docile. The female teenagers, in particular, weren't at all happy with that solution.

I investigated starting a co-op, since there aren't any Catholic co-ops for high school kids in our area. But I'm not sure if I have the energy to start the type of co-op I'd like to join, while still homeschooling six kids, ages 8 to 16!

I needed to sit down with my husband and write out our educational philosophy and goals. In reality, I'd been keeping him up late at night for the past few weeks talking about it. For me, writing it out helps clarify my thinking. Plus, I like to be able to look at what I've written and refer to it later.

Here's what we came up with. This is the order with which we came up with the ideas and not necessarily in the order of importance:

--more challenging and broader studies (particularly for our teenagers);
--more classical education;
--challenge them without nagging or punitive grading (grades should be a way to test if the student has mastered the material, not punish them);
--give glory and honor to God using the talents He gave us and learning to use those talents;
--strive for mastery of material (see the note about punitive grading);
--don't waste time doing busy work;
--expand learning opportunities
--more experiential learning, i.e. gardening, camping, hiking, nature study, cooking with Mom, field trips, etc.
(this is more for the three youngest boys at home, but should also include the older kids from time to time);
--prepare for college-level work, (goes with the challenging and broader studies idea);
--more memorization, especially poetry, but also important names, dates, Latin roots, states and capitals, etc.
--grammar and handwriting (weaknesses of particular kids).

As you can see, these aren't anything profound, but they are especially meaningful for us because of some of the issues we've had to deal with this year. Also, these goals could be achieved at a brick-and-mortar school or at home, but for us, the best environment is home. In fact, two of the issues we have dealt with this year (punitive grading and busy work) are from classes taken outside the home. Our kids don't want to give up that time with friends and learning from another teacher, so we are going to try to arrange their outside classes so that they minimize the wasted time and maximize the learning. We also want to balance the amount of outside homework they have with the learning that we want to take place at home.

We included the teen girls in our discussion, since teen boy was off reading his Aeneid homework and the teen girls always like to be included. Once they understood we didn't want to take them away from their friends and put them in a convent (do all teen girls worry about this, or is it just Catholic homeschooled girls?) they were much more relaxed and willing to listen to what we had to say.

I'm particularly excited about one idea we brainstormed together (after teen boy sat down with us). We are going to have the two girls and boy study the same literature and history next year. On tap: Shakespeare, Canterbury Tales, Song of Roland and other Medievel European writings. We'll also have the three of them do the same era for history, in order to maximize our learning time at home. I don't know why I hadn't thought of this before. One of the great things about homeschooling is the flexibility it affords and kids of different ages can study the same things, but at different levels. High school (and junior high) kids have very similar reading abilities, so having them study the same thing for history and literature is no big deal. In fact, now it seems like a big DUH!

It just occurred to me that the 2010-2011 school year will mark our twentieth year of homeschooling! Yep, I must be a slow learner, if it's taken this long for me to figure out something so basic. Maybe by the time my youngest graduates (in 2021), I'll actually know a thing or two.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Real-Life Love Story

Since today is my 23rd wedding anniversary, I thought I share a little story about how I met my husband.

We were both naval officers stationed in Naples, Italy. I had recently graduated from the Naval Academy, so I was a newly minted ensign and this was my first duty station. It's difficult to describe what one experiences when first arriving in Bella Napoli. It's a beautiful city on the lovely Bay of Naples, situated across the bay from the active volcano, Vesuvius. One cannot help but notice the steam that constantly vents from the top of Vesuvius. When I first arrived in Naples, it was only four years after they experienced a devastating earthquake, and many of the buildings and homes were severely damaged by the quake. Some people took to living in make-shift tents in the city of Pozzuoli, where much of the damage occurred. The U.S. Navy didn't escape damage to its WWII-era buildings, which were conveniently unfortunately located in and around the edge of another active volcano: Sulfatara.

Sulfatara was just as the name implies: a sulfur volcano. If you've ever been to Yellowstone and seen (or smelled) the sulfur pots, you have an idea of what Sulfatara is like.

Evidently, the Italians decided to lease space along the outer rim of Sulfatara to the U.S. Navy sometime during WWII. The Navy quickly erected buildings and Quonset huts, (more about that shortly). I was staying in the American Hotel, which was perched on the outer rim of Sulfatara. I only remember being bothered by the rotten-egg stench the first morning I woke at the hotel. I suppose I got used to it like everyone else.

Anyway, back to my love story. I had recently arrived in Naples and was waiting for the shuttle bus after work one day, which would take me from the NATO base where I worked, to the US Navy base on the other side of Sulfatara, which was near my hotel. I was wearing my summer whites, with skirt and pumps, and probably looked very young and awkward and naive (at least that's how I felt). I was carrying a package which I had mailed to myself that contained some personal belongings I couldn't fit into my suitcase.

As I waited for the shuttle inside the NATO compound, I heard the sound of harmonica music. Not a recognizable tune, but more like someone just playing notes up and down the harmonica. I soon spotted the musician, who happened to be a young man, in bleach-stained jeans and flannel shirt with a knapsack slung over his shoulder. He proceeded to get on the shuttle and sit in the back of it, so I made sure to sit near the front, holding my package on my lap. He continued to play his random notes as we rode the short distance to the navy base.

I got off at the base and started walking up the steep dirt path to my hotel. (Yes, it was steep and it was a dirt path...and I was wearing white pumps). I heard the sound of running feet getting closer behind me and a voice called, "Miss! Excuse me Miss! Is your name Debbie Miller from the Naval Academy class of '85?" I froze in my spot and turned to see who could possibly know me. My fears intensified when I realized it was the harmonica man!

I cleared my throat and said nervously, "Yes?" (I thought to myself, he must've read my name on my package.)

He introduced himself as Joe and put me at ease when he said he'd been told of my arrival by a mutual friend whom I trusted. We chatted a bit and I thought maybe he wasn't so strange after all, but I didn't see him again for another month or so.

The next time I saw Joe was around Christmastime. He was working long shifts and barely had any time off. We worked on different bases, so I didn't see him much.

It wasn't until Valentine's Day, when our mutual friend made a rather strong-armed suggestion to Joe that he ask me out, that we had our first date. I won't bore you with the details of that first date, but let me just tell you that we sat at the table of that Italian restaurant (in Italy, of course!) until they pretty much had to throw us out because the staff wanted to go home. They were very nice about it, fortunately, and I think they felt bad about it because you could tell by the look in the head waiter's eyes that he was a romantic and could spot a blossoming romance a mile away.

The clincher for me occurred many months later when we were invited to the wedding of some American friends. The wedding and reception took place in a real palace in Naples, that happened to be owned by a real prince who needed money so he rented out his palace. Talk about romantic! And of course, any couple in love who goes to a wedding together is just asking for it.

At the reception, there was a wonderful jazz combo that was made up of some very talented musicians whose day jobs were being in the Sixth Fleet Band and who regularly played for heads of state throughout the Mediterranean. When they weren't playing for big shots, they would play private gigs. When the lovely bride and groom were leaving to go on their honeymoon and everyone went outside to throw rice, my beloved and I stayed inside the palace and he requested the band play a favorite song of his. They complied and we had the entire dance floor all to ourselves, with an incredible singer and jazz band to boot. It truly was like something out of a romantic movie. I had never heard the song before, but I knew as soon as I heard it that it was "our song."

Here it is, sung by the Manhattan Transfer. Their outfits are dated, but their version is still the best one out there (except, of course, the one we heard that night).

We were married in a Quonset hut on March 27, 1987. The Navy chapel was in a WWII-era Quonset hut that was supposed to be a temporary building, but it was still there in 1987. I heard they've since torn it down. It wasn't as romantic as a palace, but it makes for a good story, nonetheless. The day before our "church" wedding, we had to get married in a civil ceremony by the Italian mayor of Bagnoli because that's what the Italian law required. The mayor's office was situated across the street from an old steel mill and above an auto mechanics shop. We had to climb over piles of garbage on the street to get inside the building. Yep, that's the Naples I know and love.

At least our reception was in a nice place. We had it at the Allied Officer's club on the NATO base. We were fortunate to have another Sixth Fleet combo play at our reception. The guy who sang for us that starry night in the palace was unable to come. He was singing for the king of Saudi Arabia that night.

After our honeymoon in Ireland, we flew back to Italy via London and made a visit to Berkeley Square. No nightingales were heard, but we made sure the square was still there.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Photos: Spring Blizzard in Colorado

We got about 20 or so inches of new, wet spring snow on Tuesday night. These pictures were taken on Wednesday afternoon. The temperatures soared up to 50 degrees F, but it felt warmer since the Colorado sun at a mile high in elevation on a cloudless day with no wind feels nice and hot! 
 Peeking through a snow cave

Outside in shirt sleeves!

Spring is just around the corner

Spring snow is the best kind for making snowmen.

Nature's beauty

He's supposed to be shoveling the driveway.

Colorado sun melts snow quickly

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tasha Tudor's Garden and the Joy of Beauty

Tasha Tudor's Garden Tasha Tudor's Garden by Tovah Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong century. I sometimes fantasize about living in a hand-hewn cozy cottage with a wood-fired cooking stove apart from the noise and congestion of city life. I would love to bake my own bread, raise my own laying hens, milk my own nanny goats and make yogurt and cheese. I would love to rely solely on my hardy pioneer stock and bypass technology (save for the ease with which I could obtain the basic necessities of life…and probably indoor plumbing…and central heating). Hey, it’s my fantasy world.

Yet, here I am, blogging mommy; a Twittering, Facebooking, Linkedin technology embracing 21st century inhabitant.

There are some modern pleasures to which I haven’t succumbed. We don’t have cable or satellite television or a flat-screened TV. I don’t have an iPhone, iPod, Blackberry or a space-aged looking device permanently stuck to my ear.

I do bake my own bread from time to time with grain that I grind myself (in a modern, convenient and easy-to-use electric grinder). I make my own yogurt occasionally and I have sour dough starter on my kitchen counter. I grow an excessively huge vegetable garden each summer, with varying degrees of success and I like to make jams, jellies, pickles and preserves with the abundance. I sew, knit, quilt, cut my kids' hair and in general try to make the world a more beautiful place. (I said try.)

I sometimes feel torn between the two worlds—my fantasy world, which I would love to inhabit, and the real world that I actually do inhabit.

My recent musings were brought on because I just finished reading
Tasha Tudor's Garden, by Tovah Martin, which is profusely illustrated with stunning photographs of Tudor’s Vermont hilltop home and her 250-acre botanical heaven-on-earth. (An aside for those of you who are ignorant of Tasha Tudor, as was my husband. His response when I told him I was reading a book about Tasha Tudor was, “Who’s Tasha Tudor?” This from the man with whom you never, ever want to play Trivial Pursuit. He’s got places, dates and geographic locations permanently etched in his brain. Need to know the capital of Burkina Faso? The capital is Ouagadougou. It used to be called Upper Volta, he tells me. Anyway, Tasha Tudor was a prolific illustrator whose illustrations transport you to another time and place. She was born in 1915 and died just recently, in June 2008. Although she lived in the 20th century, her lifestyle, dress, home and garden were deeply rooted in the 19th century, if not earlier).

This is a visually stunning book that transports the reader to another time and place. I would liked to have read more about Tasha Tudor, but this book really isn’t about her, it’s about her garden, and ultimately about beauty. The pictures transported me to a time and place that is so different from my own, which perhaps is why I find it so appealing. My Colorado garden could never compare to her Vermont hilltop garden. She has moisture and rich soil whereas I have dry clay and rock. She evidently relies on nature to water her garden most of the time, whereas I pay double for Arvada water since I live outside city limits. Because of this, if you come see my garden in late July or August, you’ll usually find my grass a dull green, if not brown-tinged because I’ve diverted all the precious water to the vegetables.

I was disappointed the book didn’t have pictures of her heated greenhouse. It made mention of its lovely camellias which brighten her home in the winter, but no pictures. I can only suspect the greenhouse doesn’t follow the proscriptions of imitating 19th century. It’s probably the technological reason for the stunning beauty of her flowers.

Really, the book is about beauty and not about living a certain lifestyle. Her eccentric dress and lack of 21st century technology may be about her own quirkiness, but they are also beautiful in themselves. Because she spent so much time nurturing her garden by hand, collecting and arranging lovely vases of flowers and painting the exquisite scenes before her, we, the readers, get to enjoy the many images of beauty.

Technology (like this blog I’m writing right now) has done much to spread ideas and information. But we can’t live authentic lives if we don’t allow ourselves to be nurtured by beauty. It easy to be distracted by the technology itself: flashy images, surround sound, instant access. But without beauty in our lives, we are only half-human. If I learned one thing from this charming book, it is that I need to be more mindful of the beauty around me; to nurture and protect it like Tasha nurtured and protected her lilies, roses, peonies, poppies and even the lowly pansies. She cared deeply about each of her botanicals, often calling them by name and always ready to give a history of their planting and heritage. When a frost was predicted, she’d hasten outside to cover the vines of her Concord grapes with laundry, or she’d lay a deep layer of mulch around a tender plant like a mother covers her sleeping child with a blanket at night. Tasha Tudor understood beauty and our human need for it.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

That Sordid Stupak Affair

picture from Facebook "Stand with Stupak" fanpage by Peter John Resweber

Pro-lifers across the country are disheartened today after last night's eleventh hour cave-in by Michigan Democratic Representative Bart Stupak. Many of us had looked to him as a courageous pro-life Democrat who would stand up to the liberal pro-abortion politics of President Obama, Speaker Pelosi and the vast majority of the Democratic party. At 3 pm local time in Washington DC yesterday, it looked like Bart Stupak was going to be the hero of the moment, but by 4 pm, pro-life lobbyists saw all their hard work melt away as one by one, Stupak and his coalition succumbed to the charms of Pelosi and the Prez. (Not to mention political favors and kickbacks, of which I'm sure we'll be hearing more about in the coming weeks).

I couldn't stand to watch the coverage, but at the same time I couldn't keep from sneaking a peek at Twitter, to see what others were saying about the vote. My heart sank when I read that the health care bill had passed by a landslide tiny margin. Not a single Republican voted for this sweeping bill that gives the government control over one-sixth of the US economy. And thirty-four Democrats voted against it. Not a single Republican!

This bill, as The Wall Street Journal calls it, is the Democrat's baby. They made it. They own it. They'll pay for it come November.

If you want to read a great synopsis of the political shenanigans that took place to get this bill rammed through Congress, read Inside the Pelosi Sausage Factory by Kimberley A. Strassel in today's Wall Street Journal.

Here's an excerpt:

Never before has the average American been treated to such a live-action view of the sordid politics necessary to push a deeply flawed bill to completion. It was dirty deals, open threats, broken promises and disregard for democracy that pulled ObamaCare to this point, and yesterday the same machinations pushed it across the finish line.

So much for transparancy, bipartisanship and all the other empty promises of Obama. It will be interesting to see if he holds his end of the bargain with his Executive Order. Not that it matters, according to Planned Parenthood and pro-abortion Colorado representative Diana DeGette.

I guess I should stop pretending there's such a thing as a pro-life Democrat. That's now gone the way of childhood fantasies just like the tooth fairy. I don't believe the Democrats have room in their inclusive, tolerant party for those who believe the unborn are entitled to human rights.

At least I can take solace in the fact that we pro-lifers are having more babies, we're homeschooling our kids and teaching them about the history of the United States and our Constitution; something I don't believe kids in the Democratic-controlled public education monopoly are getting.

They may be Goliath, but we're David. And we all know who won that battle.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Colorado Dems destroy 5,000 jobs with the stroke of a pen

And I'm one of them.

Those supposed friends of the common folk, the Democrats, have blundered big time and angered at least 5,000 of us common folk in Colorado by their passage of House Bill 1193, which requires online retailers like to collect information on purchasers and provide that information to Colorado so that the government can then collect sales tax on those purchases.

Amazon made a business decision to cut ties with all Colorado Associates (of which I was one) rather than comply with the burdensome mess which Colorado Dems have imposed.

Colorado Senate Majority Leader John Morse has gone so far as to pledge to get rid of his beloved Kindle, once he saves enough money. He can send it to me to make up for the business he cost me.

If only I were savvy enough to figure out how to incorporate in Wyoming...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My son's last spring tour with the Beatitudes

is going on now in the DC/Northern Virginia area. He's a senior now and this will be his last tour with his men's acapella group. I'd love to hear from anyone who was able to go to one of their shows this week!

When all the world seems to be falling apart

...remember He loves you.

Better sound on this one but no video.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It happened again

Another school shooting in Colorado. Praise God no one was killed this time.

Monday, February 22, 2010

I'm so hungry I could eat a buffalo

Lent may be a time of simpler, meatless meals, but Sundays are always a day of feasting. This past Sunday I cooked up my first bison roast. My dad has started raising bison in southern Colorado, on a 200 acre ranch on the Rio Grande and this was from his very first one. I searched online for a recipe, then tweeked it according to our tastes and what we had on hand. The result was delicious! Want the recipe?

Bison Roast with Garlic

3 to 5 lb bison roast
olive oil for searing
3 sm pkgs frozen pearl onions
1/2 c cooking wine or Italian dressing
1/2 c flour
2 12 oz. bottles beer (we used Coors Light...what else are you going to do with light beer?)
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1 t dry mustard
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
black pepper
garlic powder

Pepper all surfaces of roast and sprinkle liberally with garlic powder. Sear roast in hot skillet with olive oil until nicely browned. Place roast in slow cooker at MEDIUM temperature with pearl onions. Douse with cooking wine or Italian dressing. In the meantime, use drippings from skillet to make gravy. Heat drippings; add flour, salt and pepper to taste. Stir in beer. Add extra flour or liquid as necessary to make a good gravy. Season gravy with Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard and garlic. Cook just enough to blend thoroughly. Pour gravy over roast and onions. Make sure roast is completely covered. Leave the lid in place for 6 to 8 hours at MEDIUM setting. (Or cook longer at LOW setting).

Catholic Culture: Epiphany to Mardis Gras

Most folks have heard of Mardis Gras, but how many know what it means? I don't just mean literally (it's French for "Fat Tuesday"), but historically and liturgically? For example, did you know that Mardis Gras actually has its roots in Christmas?

I did a little research and found out some more tidbits that I didn't know before.

Mardis Gras isn't just the one day before Ash Wednesday (though the folks in New Orleans could've told me that, I'm sure!) It's actually the entire celebratory season from Epiphany (or Twelfth Night, January 6th) until the Lenten season of penance begins at midnight of Ash Wednesday.
a traditional King's cake--yummy, huh?

The King's cake which is a mandatory part of Mardis Gras in New Orleans (another thing I hadn't known before), commemorates the route of the three kings (also known as the three wise men) who traveled from the East to seek the Infant King of the world, Jesus. They took a circuitous route in order to evade King Herod's men. (Hence, the circular cake). Herod had instructed the three kings to return to him after finding the Infant King in order that King Herod might come and pay homage to Him. (Yeah, right, Herod!) The three kings weren't called "wise men" for nothing. They never told Herod where He was.

The colors are significant too. The purple stands for justice, green is faith and gold is power. The Church uses these colors throughout the liturgical year as well. Purple is the color worn for Advent and Lent and signifies penance; green is worn during Ordinary Time and represents the hope of life eternal and new life; Gold represents something highly valued and esteemed.

In Catholic Europe, the period from Epiphany to Ash Wednesday is known as Carnival: from the Latin words carne vale, meaning "farewell to meat," signifying the period of abstaining from meat during the Lenten fast.

Speaking of fasting: Mardis Gras doesn't mean you indulge on Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and thus you get fat (as I used to think). The "fat" part of Fat Tuesday means all animal fats were used up, since they would not be used during the six weeks of the Lenten observance.

The English also used up their animal fats (and dairy products, including eggs, which were forbidden during Lent from about the seventh century until fairly recently). Even though Englishmen can now eat butter and eggs during Lent, the tradition of "Pancake Day" or "Shrove Tuesday" remains. Shrove Tuesday refers to the tradition of being "shriven" of one's sins on that day by making an examination of conscience and going to confession to prepare for the season of penance. Though not as boisterous a holiday as Mardis Gras or Carnival, the Brits are just as wed to the traditions of Pancake Day as are the rowdier crowds wed to their King's cake in New Orleans. Pancake races, whereby the runners must also flip pancakes in skillets whilst running, are a popular event in the villages of England even today. (When we lived in North Yorkshire, our parish priest was a frequent winner of these races).

My kids insisted upon eating pancakes for supper last Tuesday, even though I assured them they would be available to them for breakfast throughout Lent. (I opted for a nice helping of leftover lasagne with a glass of merlot for dinner that night).

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Always wear your seatbelt

Public Safety Announcement

A friend sent me a link to this lovely video.

When writing about one's children's usually a good idea to have them proof-read what you're writing, particularly if said child is old enough to read.

Such is the case with one of my recent posts about Twixters. In it, I mentioned the struggle we had getting our eldest daughter off to college for the first time and how she was going to pay for it.

She thought I painted a picture of her as a "slacker senior," which she most certainly was not. She and we, her parents, were treading unfamiliar territory and hearing new terms, like "FAFSA," "EFC," and "unsubsidized Stafford" for the first time. I failed to mention (due to short-term memory loss) that she had won a hefty academic scholarship from a private Catholic school and was a finalist on their math scholarship. However, she turned it down to attend a state university. (I have already edited the posting).

She has now graduated and has applied for PhD programs in nuclear physics and medical physics at five different graduate schools across the country. She found out she's not in the 8% of accepted applicants to MIT's program, but has sweet offers from two other schools while she's waiting to hear from the last two schools.

Yes, dear Maria (not her real name, but she knows who she is), we are so proud of you. Even if you don't go to grad school, you've already done something we were told was impossible: you worked your way through school.