The Catholic Wendy’s Booth

Lately I’ve been reading Emily Stimpson Chapman’s The Catholic Table with a book club of women from my church, and while we were pretty divided over A Severe Mercy, I think it’s possible we actually all like this one. Way to go, Emily S.C.

So I’ve been thinking about what food means for our family in this season where I’m increasingly incapable of actually preparing it. (It doesn’t help that I’m pretty sure being on my feet to make a freezer batch of NOT EVEN GOOD chicken pot pies jumpstarted my last preterm labor.)

Anyway, it was a Saturday morning and J took Scout on errands. So it was just me and Pippin, and I miraculously convinced him to help me go through Roo’s closery and start getting things cleared out in there from the 1000 bins of hand me downs it’s housed since Scout’s reign. And it was actually super fun. He loved being the strong man who slid the bins into the hall for me, and he helped me pick out tiny outfits for the hospital bag, and spun around in my spiffy new glider.

Afterwards, I decided to treat him to a lunch at Wendy’s, his all-time favorite restaurant, even though it would mean a longish waddle across the park. But he’d helped me all morning! And the weather wasn’t awful. And you know what they say about 31 weeks…it’s only going to get worse from here.

So we stopped at every park bench on the way and I tried not to think dire thoughts about my fitness level as I hobbled along, pausing for him to gather leaves to toss in the creek, enjoying his chatter about the proper way to plant these things I’m not even convinced are seeds.

At Wendy’s, we ordered our usual and sat at the window so we could keep look out for police cars and fire trucks. Pip has such a fraught relationship with food that it’s just a relief to go someplace where he’ll eat his fill cheerfully and gratefully. But even though it wasn’t the kind of meal I envisioned when reading The Catholic Table, something like the meals Shauna Niequist is so good at describing, and which I occasionally succeed in producing on our own big dinner table, there did seem to be something sacred about this little treat with my firstborn.

Lunchtime, especially on weekdays, is usually a time of frenetic activity for me. We Skype my parents, I cajole people to focus and eat, I try to produce balanced meals with zero effort, I get up from the table 30 times for things I’ve forgotten or someone’s decreed essential. Or I read on my phone and encourage folks not to bother me as I eat my poorly microwaved leftovers. Or I try to start the slow cooker and change out the laundry as the kids eat their lunch painstakingly slowly. It’s not the worst part of my day, but I doubt it’s a time they’ll recall me shining as a mom.

But at this little spontaneous lunch date with my eldest, I left my phone in my purse. I didn’t cajole him to eat more because it’s all garbage, and I didn’t get mad that he wasn’t eating what I had fixed. We talked about who in our family loves fries most as we split an order. He coached me on assembling the windmill toy he got in his kids’ meal, and we spotted a fire truck with lights speed by. We said grace, we enjoyed our meal, we enjoyed each other.

What else is sharing the Catholic Table about?

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Hurricane Thoughts

I’m a native Floridian. I’m also a professional worrier, so my mind last week was on Irma a lot, praying for friends and family in its path.

And coming after Hurricane Harvey, which probably elicited a Hail Mary or two from me, or the fires out West, which pretty much flew under my radar, I’m feeling some guilt about my completely arbitrary distribution of compassion.

I was talking about this with a friend recently, who at the time was fretting about what Hurricane Irma might do to her Outer Banks vacation, and of course feeling guilty about that, when so much greater suffering is occurring as a result. After all, while a hurricane might obligingly spin out to sea and leave everyone untouched, generally, if you’re praying for the safety of one set of people, you’re sort of sacrificing other sets who will end up in the storm’s path instead.

While we were talking, though, over breakfast in our church’s basement, she pointed to a poster with the photos of current seminarians in our diocese. She admitted that each year, as she comforted unruly babies during Mass, she’d pick, at random, one of the seminarians and pray for him over the course of the year. (I love this idea, don’t you?)

And suddenly, the arbitrary allotment of prayer didn’t seem so selfish. We are human; we are finite. (News fatigue is a thing, after all.) We form a connection, as deep as the third-generation Florida blood that runs in my veins or as serendipitous as a face chosen at random off a poster, and we devote our efforts deeply, if not broadly.

It’s the same reason, after all, that since returning from Uganda in 2009, J and I have devoted much of our (admittedly often limited) philanthropy and prayers to Uganda. We only spent six months there, almost ten years ago, but I have a bit of a better context to focus my prayers and guide my financial giving: I know the towns where the people we fund through Kiva live; I know bits of the Lhukonzo our Compassion International child speaks.

I can’t care as deeply for everyone affected by natural disaster as those living in the landscapes in which I’m mostly deeply rooted; I cannot grieve the losses of every child the way I pray for my Compassion child in the loss of his father. That’s not to say I can’t care more, pray more, give more — I have a very long way to go! It’s only to say that you have causes, and I have causes, and if each of us in the world take up a few causes of our own, dear to our hearts, and nourish them well, that might be a good starting place. Breaking the world into small, meaningful chunks and loving those around us as best we can — that seems like a plan we can just about manage.

 

Commonplace Book, 36 (Week 31)

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • Refried Black Bean Soup: Note: it looks sinister in prep. It looks a little better when you’re done, but mostly like sludge. Delicious, delicious sludge.

 

 

Yum. Right?

 

 

  • Slow Cooker Breakfast Casserole: I made some rookie mistakes that made it salty: I used too many pre-seasoned hash browns and subbed breakfast sausage for plain bulk sausage, which I couldn’t find. But it was still a small miracle: a food-safe, hot, hearty breakfast ready for a breakfast potluck right when I woke up. Highly recommend, just follow the recipe more carefully than I did!
  • Elephant ears. We are baking something most weeks for Police Preschool to fit with the letter of the week (last week was dog biscuits) and WHY CAN’T I MAKE ELEPHANT EARS? They are puff pastry, sugar and cinnamon, rolled out and baked. I’d say I’m an intermediate baker and these are categorized as easy and we ended up with kids wildly gobbling sugar and the dough not slicing as thinly as I wanted and not a single convincingly elephantine ear. But hey. Sugar and cinnamon and puff pastry still tastes good, no matter the travesties committed against it.

What I’m reading:

  • Always and Forever Lara Jean. Fluff, but just the kind of teenager I kind of was, and wish I knew, in high school. And set in Charlottesville just up the road!
  • “Our favorite audiobooks” at LMLD: Pippin has been listening to hours of audiobooks each day. Is this normal?! Is this OK?! Mostly he’s been working through Karen Savage’s Librivox ouvre, so E. Nesbit and the What Katy Did series, and I’ve been trying to encourage him not to meditatively chew on the old iPhone while he listens.

Last year I was thinking about:

  • I was making pizza, apparently, and not sleeping nearly as much. We are pretty solidly in a frozen pizza season much of the time now, especially when we were sans kitchen sink.

Police Preschool in a nutshell: a worksheet from Children’s Church with PRAY FOR POLICE scrawled in.

Is Being Good at Something the Point?

IMG_0933
This is baby Pip on his favorite vehicle back in the day, the helicopter. But I’m such a good artist I doubt I had to tell you that, right?

I was a good student and a good librarian. At best, I feel like I’m a tolerable stay at home mom and a lopsided housekeeper (maybe better than usual baker? Worse than usual mopper?).

But I’m reminded of what I heard a priest say this All Saints, while I wrestled my toddler in the back pew, still seething at the preschooler is left with his merciful papa: “God doesn’t ask anything of us we can’t do, but he also doesn’t ask any less.”

I had heard the old cliche first part before, but never stopped to consider the second part. Easy isn’t a sign you’re doing things right, that you’re basking in God’s favor.

I feel like I’m pretty bad at being pregnant. On the one hand, I’ve brought two babies successfully into the world and so far things look good for this one. But the process is violent and draining for me and I can’t do anything much else while I’m brewing a baby and I certainly don’t make it look elegant or even desirable.

But I’m not sure being good at something is the point. When I was a kid, I took the classes I was good at, and hated and avoided the subjects in which I lacked aptitude (looking at you, geometry). But then I grew up (well, a little) and met this handsome boy not afraid to suck at things. He’d fearlessly invest time and money in a new hobby, limp along, and figure it out.

We see this throughout the Bible, too. Moses, for instance, was a terrible public speaker and still got recruited. And I’m not entirely sure sanctity is about efficacy, either.

My husband is a polymath, so the odds are stacked in his favor in a way they probably are not for me. (I’m not sure there’s enough practice in the world to help me understand Euclid, and he still laughs at that time he walked in on me doing a pregnancy exercise video.) But I came to admire that willingness to be bad at something, and even to imitate it a bit: in Uganda, where you were expected to just improvise and figure things out; in homeownership, where my dad cobbles together brilliant solutions and learns on the job; certainly in parenting where I find myself hitting Wiffle balls and doing funny voices while I read and trying not to be so damn self conscious.

Life is more interesting, for sure.

Things I Feel Like I Have to Tell You

Ok, so you’ve probably done all these things and you are probably still alive (ghosts, please stop reading this blog), you argue. BUT! Have you ever had a case of food poisoning at the same time as the rest of your family and had to have friends deliver more toilet paper and Gatorade to your house? (Hint: It’s the worst.) Are you at a stage of life where you frequently cook for pregnant or nursing mothers, or adorable but vulnerable small children? Here are some things I feel like I have to tell you. I’m the daughter of a health inspector. I’m sorry in advance.

Slow cooker safety

  • You shouldn’t put things in the slow cooker still frozen. It doesn’t reach safe temperatures quickly enough. I’m sorry. I didn’t know for a long time, either.
  • You shouldn’t leave the leftovers in the insert and put it in the fridge. It doesn’t cool down to safe temperatures quickly enough. This sucks. I agree.
  • If you forget to turn on your slow cooker for an hour or more, you have to throw the stuff out. Go ahead and cry. I just lost some pesto chicken and I’m still mad about it.

Learn more depressing slow cooker safety facts from the USDA and University of Minnesota Extension.

Meat thawing safety

  • Leaving things out to thaw. Don’t do this!!! Let the National Center for Home Preservation school you on safe methods so you can live long and prosper! My speciality is the 30 minute cold water bath, but you may find a different way that works.

 

What rules do you feel compelled to tell people, or worry about in secret? I have a friend who asked me how often I changed my dish towel if I also used it for hand drying and…I have no idea? But I guess that’s gross?

What are your personal food-related terrors? Stinky sponges? Years-expired salad dressing? Chicken snugglers?

 

Fumbling Toward a Family Rosary

The beautiful double kneeler John’s brother made for us as a wedding present in our first grad school apartment
Through a confluence of factors, this summer has been our rosary summer. We’ve had friends experience births and losses — something that always brings me back to the slow rhythm of the rosary — and in starting Police Preschool, it’s something I wanted to make a part of our family life.

In addition, some families from our church have been working to get a small group rosary going one Friday evening a month. I love those moments of praying in community: it feels a little like a quilting bee on the frontier, where together we cheerfully make something big and beautiful in no time.

On the other hand, praying the rosary myself — even a decade at a time with a two- and four-year-old — feels as if I were trying to make a quilt by hand, all by myself: snarled and interrupted, often redone, painstakingly slow.

But those corporate Friday rosaries point toward what I might have, someday, if we stretch our spiritual muscles and build up the discipline as a family. There are glimmers even now, a few weeks in: Scout asking for the silicone “rosie” my dad made her; Pippin asking me to explain the mystery we are tackling that day; the old familiarity of my chipped, beautiful cloisonne rosary, given to me by a friend for my 21st birthday, blessed by the sweet monsignor of our college church — or the battered wooden rosary J bought me in Seoul before he was even Catholic — or the sparkly crystal rosary my godmother gave me for my First Communion present. (Rosaries get misplaced with alarming frequency at our house, if you can’t tell.)

The truth is, I don’t think I’ve consistently prayed the rosary since college, when I’d pray every night in that anxious, homesick season to help me fall asleep, more often than not waking when I dropped the rosary mid-prayer. Trying to instate a family rosary now seems crazy, as Pippin swipes through pictures on my phone of today’s mystery, or Scout shouts, as usual, that our decade should be offered for “ME!!!,” and it’s totally unclear if anyone is getting anything out of this practice. But it starts my mornings of Police Preschool right, even when it leaves me flustered: remembering my reliance on God, praying desperately that good intentions and earnest modeling are enough, in the end.

In Defense of Pregnancy Consumerism

A sentiment I can get behind
It’s possible that if you feel terrific throughout pregnancy this doesn’t apply, but I’m actually a real proponent of a little retail therapy to cheer up a crappy pregnancy. (I hope Kate Middleton is getting only the best stuff right now, guys.)

After all, you can acquire almost everything you need for baby herself from hand-me-downs and a little judicious secondhand shopping, but getting through the nine months preceding her arrival can be a slog to say the least.

In pregnancy, I can’t really eradicate my morning sickness or fix the discomforts that plague me, but it’s worth passing some time researching remedies that might alleviate the crappiness even a bit.

Here are some items I’ve found helpful in boosting morale.

For nausea:

  • Vitamin B6 in the proper dose, for serious. If you’re already gagging, you might as well not have to chop pills into a crumbling mess that makes it worse. You can also ask for Zofran that can be taken sublingually. Swallowing pills is hard when you’re already queasy! Don’t go cheap and puke them into the bathroom sink.

For lumpiness:

  • I’m team maternity dress. I just don’t think the pregnant human figure was meant to support waistbands, and especially with subsequent pregnancies, when I find myself often squatting down to deal with other small people, it’s crack city all the time, regardless of how cute the maternity jeans are.

For heartburn:

  • A wedge pillow. It is ridiculous, and paired with my pregnancy body pillow, Gladys, takes up quite a bit of the bed, but it helps me not to wake up with raging heartburn — or worse, suffer through a reflux vomit.
  • A well-fitting bra. Get fitted. It’ll help with heartburn and backache, and if you buy one expensive one from the fitter, you can get the rest in your new size from Amazon on the cheap. This my all-time favorite and has lasted me through three pregnancies and 40+ months of nursing. (Warning: It has a mortifying name.)

For travel and work:

  • Compression socks. Totally depressing, but they prevent blood clots when traveling on a plane or sitting a long time, and help keep swelling down. I get lurid ones because the flesh-colored ones for diabetics squick me out. Hey! I am a sausage person, but I’m a FUN sausage person!

For encouragement:

What are other small indulgences that make the long slog bearable for you?