Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy Birthday, Kitten!

Today our oldest daughter, nicknamed "Kitten" on this blog, turns sixteen. 16!!! I can't believe it; it seems like yesterday, or last week sometime, that Thad and I were discovering that the doctor was going to induce my labor nearly a month early and our grand parenting adventure was going to start much sooner than we had anticipated. ;)

Kitten is a wonderful girl--smart, sweet, kind, responsible, competent in millions of ways, talented, artistic--I could go on and on. Today's birthday celebration included a shoe-shopping trip--her choice, and a reminder to me that these girls of mine are growing up so very fast.

As has been our tradition for the last few years, I will now turn the blog over to Kitten herself, so that she can say hello:

Hi! Kitten here. Wow: sixteen already. I can't believe how fast the year has flown by. This past year has been full of fun surprises and hard (school) work.


We started the celebration a little early by stopping yesterday at one of my favorite pet shops and looking at the animals there (that's right, Kitten, you were only looking at all those adorable cats. Just keep telling yourself that our two cats are plenty.) Today we went shoe shopping, and I bought two pairs of awesome high heels! I'm already taller than Mom, and the shoes make it even better. :) We also stopped in at yet another pet store and saw this sweet guy. I hope he finds a good family soon!


We went out for an early birthday dinner, and afterwards picked up ice cream to go with my cute birthday cake. We plan to enjoy the rest of this evening celebrating my birthday and New Year's Eve all in one.


Happy New Year to all my mom's blog readers!


--Kitten :)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

That "New Translation" cookie recipe...UPDATED

(For the UPDATE, see below.)

I'll be resuming regular blogging, God willing, on Monday, Jan. 2--but come on, you didn't think I'd manage to be quiet for a whole week, did you? :)

I hope all of my readers had wonderful Christmases; I certainly did, as did my loved ones. God is good.

Now to business: most of you have probably already seen the "New Translation Christmas Cookie Recipe" which originated on Commonweal's blog and was posted in this version by Msgr. Pope just the other day:

Christmas Cookie Recipe
(Revised Translation)

Serves: You and many.

Having procured one chalice butter, 2/3 chalice sugar, cream these ingredients, that by their commingling, you may begin to make the dough.

In a similar way, the butter is having been made commingled, with the sugar, beat in one egg.

Gather these dry ingredients to yourself, which you have received, so that, having combined them, you may add them to the dough which you have already begun to make: 2 1/2 chalices sifted all-purpose flour. 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla.

Make the precious dough with your venerable hands.

Into the refrigerator graciously place the dough, so that it, having been chilled for the duration of 3 or 4 hours, before the rolling and the the cutting of the cookies.

When, in the fullness of time, you are a ready to bake these spotless cookies, these delicious cookies, these Christmas cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Rolling out the dough and taking up the cookie cutter or stencil of your own choosing, fashion the cookies into forms that are pleasing.

Sprinkle colorful adornments of the cookies like the dewfall.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the cookies have jut begun to attain to the brownness that is graciously granted them by the oven’s heat.

May these cookies be found acceptable in your sight, and be borne to a place of refreshment at your table whereon they may be served with milk, hot chocolate, or with your spirits.

Now, I can enjoy the lighthearted spirit of joking good humor offered here as well as anybody. And because I appreciate this good clean fun for what it is, I'd like to offer, in the same spirit, the original 1970s version of this cookie recipe, before it was translated as you see above. I can't say where I got this version, but Larry D's friend Sister Patricia Owens O'Flannary, OP might possibly have been involved:
Winter Holiday Cookie Recipe
(Original Version)

Serves: All.

Get some butter, margarine, or other oil-like substance of your choice. Also get some sugar or other sweetener. (Note: exact amounts are patriarchal and legalistic! It's up to each person to decide how much of these ingredients to use!)

Mix them together, apologizing to each for inflicting this oppression on them; use the opportunity to reflect on injustice.

Now add an egg, unless you are a vegan and you'd be offended. Stir the egg in vigorously but don't "beat" it, because "beating" is violent and wrong.

In another dish, preferably an earthenware bowl of no particular design that is by its sheer ugliness authentic and real, mix some flour and salt. Add this, with some cruelty-free vanilla, to the butter/sugar/egg, or margarine/sugar substitute/no egg, or whatever you've done so far.

Make sure everyone has a chance to stir the dough so that all will feel welcome. Then chill the dough in the refrigerator for a time, and ponder the coldness of the old, rigid way of making cookies compared to this new enlightened approach.

Bake the cookies in a reasonably hot oven. You can, if you like, use cookie cutters, but free-form dough shapes are more compelling and tell their own stories, while cookie cutters impose dull uniformity and inflexible shapes on the dough, which is really sad when you think about it.

The cookies are done when you feel like they're done! Serve them to groups of people sitting in circles on the ground, because we don't want to get all formal or anything.
That certainly casts a light on the new translation version, doesn't it? ;)

UPDATE: A brilliant commenter at Msgr. Pope suggested a Marty Haugen version of the Cookie Recipe. I'm glad to comply. I don't think I'll need to tell you what tune to hum this little ditty to:

The Singing Cookie Recipe Song

Here in this place, the oven's preheating,
Now is our hunger banished away,
See in this space, the mixer is whirring,
Making us snacks for to brighten the day.

Gather them in, the sugar and butter
Gather them in, the eggs and the flour;
Wash and prepare each cute cookie cutter
Have them at hand for the time and the hour.

We are the young--and baking's a mystery,
We are the old--we've done this before,
Careful, say moms throughout human history:
Sugar's a mess to clean up from the floor.

Gather them in, the salt and vanilla
Gather them in, the rest as you know;
Add soda too, but just a scintilla,
Stir it and make it to form a soft dough.

Here you must chill the dough till it's ready:
Here you must roll and cut--the next phase--
Here you must bake, with hands that are steady,
All of the shapes in the oven on trays.

Give us to eat the golden-brown cookies
Give us to drink some milk with them, too,
Nourish us well, the chefs and the rookies
Make everybody clean up when we're through.

:)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Just us Catholics

I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all of my readers an early Merry Christmas--or, for you sticklers, a happy last couple days of Advent!

Kidding, kidding.

Well, sort of. Actually I had a funny dream last night, and even though there is statistically nothing less interesting to other people than other people's dreams, I'm going to share it anyway, because it's my blog and I can, so there.

I dreamed I was in a church hall--it was sort of my parish, and sort of not, the way dreams are. A dear friend was hosting a children's craft activity, and I was sort of helping, which is funny considering that I'm the least crafty person in the world. There were random side plots going on too, but they're not important. Anyway, as the craft activity finished, an irate woman came marching up to my friend and me. Here she thought, she said, that two homeschooling Catholic moms could be trusted not to undermine her efforts to raise her children as True Catholics. Yet here we were letting them do Christmas crafts before Christmas--and, to make things worse, in a church where the altar had already been decorated for Christmas, even though it was not yet December 24, let alone late afternoon on December 24, which is when, as every real Catholic knows, it is only appropriate to begin decorating for Christmas! How dare we! and so on.

In vain did I try to explain to her that my poor pastor, with two churches to look after, could hardly wait until December 24 to put up the Christmas decorations in both churches; in vain did I try to explain that our mission Church did not as yet have daily Mass and so no one would see (and be affronted by) the Christmas decorations before the Christmas Mass; in vain did I try to get her to be reasonable about it. She was just Offended, with a capital O.

I woke up and chuckled at the dream--but then, being me, I thought about it. Was it really all that farfetched? Isn't it true, sadly so, that we really have become that polarized in our expressions of the Catholic faith here in America in the year 2011?

Go to one Catholic blog, and you'll learn that True Catholics will only support Candidate A for president. At another blog, you'll learn that True Catholics will never, ever vote for A but might possibly vote for B. A third blog denounces B as the Catholic choice and sneers at any Catholic naive enough to support B, when C is still in the race...

Or, at one Catholic blog, you'll learn that the EF Mass is the only choice for a Real Catholic; at another, the OF; at still another, the OF but only the former translation; at yet another...

Or, at one Catholic blog you'll learn that parish religious ed. must be supported by all right-thinking Catholics; at another, than Catholic schools are the only way to raise decent kids; at a third, that homeschooling is the only morally correct choice...

Or, at one Catholic blog you'll hear that shorts and jeans are fine for Mass; at another, that the biggest issue facing Catholics today is immodesty in dress; at another, that women who fail to adopt the sola skirtura as their way of life are failing to follow the Blessed Mother and are prideful and indecent; at still another, that veils are still actually mandatory for Mass and the evil modernist pseudo-church has suppressed this truth...

Maybe my dream's not so funny. And maybe we've got a long way to go, just inside the Church, just us Catholics, before "Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men" isn't an impossible ideal.

So, whether you will attend Midnight Mass in Latin or the five p.m. vigil with guitars, whether you will dress for Christmas Mass in velvet and lace or a suit or in slacks and a warm sweater, whether you are at Mass every Sunday or not quite, whether your children are eagerly joining you in the parish choir (as mine are) or are being dragged unwillingly to Mass for Grandma's sake, whether your house has been decorated like the North Pole since Thanksgiving or whether you've draped a suspiciously tree-shaped lump in the living room in swaths of purple fabric until after Midnight Mass, whether you will vote for Gingrich or Paul or Santorum or even Obama (though I hope not because of his anti-life policies, but despite them): I wish all of my Catholic brothers and sisters a most Merry and Blessed Christmas.

And I wish the same for my Christian brothers and sisters in the Christian family.

And the same for my non-Christian brothers and sisters, in the family of believers, as fellow children of God.

And the same for my non-believer brothers and sisters, in the human family, because from my perspective we still have the same Father.

Merry Christmas, and God bless us, every one!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

You know it's almost Christmas...

...when a blogger writes a post about why she wears the veil to Mass, and another blogger links to and expands on that post, and as of this writing, neither post has attracted the humdrum hundred comments such posts generally attract.

This, despite the fact that the first post was posted on Dec. 15.

And that it was linked to on New Advent.

My thoughts on the wearing of a veil are well known, of course, but I wanted to give those of my readers who aren't swamped in last-minute preparations for the upcoming Holy Day a chance to visit these blogs if they like. Or talk about veils here, if you want. I'm winding things down here, and will probably put up the last pre-Christmas post Friday and then take roughly a week off (give or take), but I will try to check in on comments periodically.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cultural laments from other blogs

Today, you need to go and read a few other blogger's posts. Trust me: this will be worth your time.

First up, my friend Magister Christianus, who has written an eloquent post about what it's like to be a serious Christian teaching in a public high school:
As I walked the halls of the public high school where I teach Latin, returning to my room after submitting six failures from Latin I to the guidance office, I felt the weight of an elephant on my chest and burning tears around the rims of my eyes. It was not the six failures that produced these sensations, but they contributed to a cumulative, crushing effect. Perhaps it was that one of our students was raped on her way home earlier this week. Perhaps it was the cheating scandal that has rocked our school, involving a young man who photographed with his phone a final exam and sold it to students. This same young man was discovered to have stolen multiple tests and quizzes from another teacher during the teacher's absence. Perhaps it was a colleague's discovery that a student had gotten onto his computer and changed grades. Perhaps it the sadness I have felt for some time and that hit critical mass yesterday over a former student who is a friend on Facebook. This student, who must be in her late twenties by now, was a dark, edgy girl as I recall her. Now, she works at a local bar, and the vast majority of her body not covered by clothing is decked out in tattoos. I do not want to know what a former student looks like under her clothes. She friended me a long time ago, and I accepted, but now I see frequent updates of her in all manner of undress at her work, which seems to promote such appearance. I am praying the Lord will draw her to Him and out of the life she is living. [...]

Yet today as I walked the halls, I felt oppression. My school is above average in academic, athletic, and artistic/musical achievements. We have the awards and statistics to prove it. We are, however, feeling the crushing weight of the immorality and despair that seems to be sweeping the nation, if not the world. I found myself wanting to get out, to leave, to do anything but bear the burden of this weight.

And then I thought of Mother Teresa and of Jesus. How long did Mother Teresa work in the slums? What oppression did her soul suffer? What weight of sin did our Lord have to carry in the moral sinkhole of the 1st century Roman empire? In the garden of Gethsemane, He asked our Father, "Let this cup pass from me," but added in His typical, faithful way, "nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done."
Go and read the whole thing here.

The thing is, culture matters. When you have a nation that scorns chastity, shuns morality, and decides that the only virtue is pleasing one's own self, that is reflected in our youth, and wreaks a terrible human toll.

Next up: I don't agree completely with Patrick Archbold here, but this is a pretty thought-provoking piece of writing:

Once upon a time, women wanted to project an innocence. I am not idealizing another age and I have no illusions about the virtues of our grandparents, concupiscence being what it is. But some things were different in the back then. First and foremost, many beautiful women, whatever the state of their souls, still wished to project a public innocence and virtue. And that combination of beauty and innocence is what I define as pretty.

By nature, generally when men see this combination in women it brings out their better qualities, their best in fact. That special combination of beauty and innocence, the pretty inspires men to protect and defend it.

Young women today do not seem to aspire to pretty, they prefer to be regarded as hot. Hotness is something altogether different. When women want to be hot instead of pretty, they must view themselves in a certain way and consequently men view them differently as well.

As I said, pretty inspires men’s nobler instincts to protect and defend. Pretty is cherished. Hotness, on the other hand, is a commodity. Its value is temporary and must be used. It is a consumable. [...]

Our problem is that society doesn’t value innocence anymore, real or imagined. Nobody aspires to innocence anymore. Nobody wants to be thought of as innocent, the good girl. They want to be hot, not pretty.

I agree with most of what Patrick is saying--but I would point out that in its day, prettiness was also something of a commodity. Pretty, after all, is a quality of the young--and only of some of them. Plenty of virtuous, modest, well-behaved girls in former ages were never pretty, and the plain, the too-fat or too-thin, the freckled or harsh-featured girls often missed out on those chivalrous impulses men had for the young and attractive, as did those women too old to be considered "pretty." I would, instead, speak of a different kind of female beauty, the kind of beauty that doesn't have to be "pretty" to inspire. Like this, for instance.

Last, but not least, Rod Dreher has written the customer service rant par excellence:

I no longer fear Hell, for I have spent two days dealing with AT&T customer service.

Honest, I cannot remember the last time I was so angry. It was the kind of experience that makes you think this must be a movie, or the Soviet Union. And it’s still not over! How are these people still in business? [...]

Well, the deadline came and went, and no phone service, and no Internet. I phoned AT&T myself. It took four minutes and 56 seconds of navigating through the automated customer service system before I finally got put through to a human being. And off we went again. It was as if the entire set of conversations Julie had had the day before had never occurred! After 45 minutes or longer on the phone with this particular person, and getting absolutely nowhere, my head was throbbing, and I lost my temper. I asked to be put through to a supervisor … and was transferred back to the automated system, at the very beginning.

I really do lack the words to describe how incandescently angry I was at this point. I had to give the phone to my wife to handle from that point on. I heard her say the words, “What do you mean it won’t be on till Friday?! That is unacceptable. You all have had over a month to make this work!”

I took the phone at that point. At least 30 minutes later, and three different customer service representatives (“Sir, I don’t know why they transferred you to me; this is not my area”), I reached the end of the line. The man told me there was nothing to be done. He said if it didn’t come on by midnight, that I should call this particular number. I realized there really was nothing else I could do at that point. There was no one left to talk to. He told me he lacked the authority to transfer me to a supervisor. I believe he was lying, but at that point, all I was capable of was screaming. (Julie had already asked me to go to the back of the house to carry on these conversations, because I was frightening the children). I gave up.

Read the whole thing here.

Of course, the real problem is that we now live in a culture that values low-cost goods and services and high returns for the stockholder over such old-fashioned notions as quality, customer service, and standing by one's words or promises. These days, an overseas customer service person can assure the irate American on the other end of the phone that tomorrow or the next day the problem will be fixed--and then, to all extents and purposes, the irate American ceases to exist, as far as the ironically-named customer service specialist is concerned. It is not the job of the customer service person to waste company resources and drain stockholder value by actually, you know, fixing the problem. And when the even-more-irate American customer calls back tomorrow, well, maybe he'll call at a different time and someone in a different country will answer the call; the odds are against getting the same person twice, especially given the automated maze at the beginning of the system.

I'm not (of course) the only person out there who writes cultural laments, and I'm glad to have this opportunity to share three really good ones with all of you!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Worst Christmas children's shows?

Once again, I'm posting extremely late in the day. Why are vacations full of everything but free time, I wonder? :)

Online movie ticket site Fandango held a poll to determine the top ten worst Christmas movies. Here's their list:
1. SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS 23%
2. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 16%
3. JINGLE ALL THE WAY 10%
4. JACK FROST 9%
5. SANTA WITH MUSCLES 5%
6. ERNEST SAVES CHRISTMAS 5%
7. HOME ALONE 3 4%
8. DECK THE HALLS 4%
9. SURVIVING CHRISTMAS 3%
10. CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS 3%
Now, I don't think this list is anywhere near comprehensive enough. Where are the claymation titles? Where is this recent holiday monstrosity starring Hallmark's (tm) characters Hoops (tm) and Yoyo (tm)?

Of course, this list isn't really a list of horrible children's Christmas entertainment, whether movies or TV, so I guess I can give this poll a pass for not including such things. But now that I've brought it up, here's the question of the day: what is the all-time worst children's Christmas feature you've ever seen, and why?

Oh, and because Mark Shea has been ruthlessly running it all week, we'll take the Star Wars Holiday Special out of the list right from the get-go. We'll concede that that is in a special category of awful all its own. But other than that one, which gets your top vote for worst, most annoying, most obnoxious, most dreadful, most dreary, or just plain most horrible children's Christmas feature?

My vote is for The Year Without a Santa Claus, which I thought was just--weird--when I saw it as a kid (though some of the songs, alas, stayed in one's head). But I know some people love that one, so...what's your vote?

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Christmas dinner dilemma

I'm posting this as a bleg to my readers: do any of you find Christmas dinner to be a sort of dilemma?

Picture the typical Catholic family on Christmas day. The whole family has gone to Mass (or, at least, those family members who did not contract a dreaded right-before-Christmas virus or something) either the night before, or at midnight, or fairly early Christmas morning. The wonders under the tree have been unwrapped and explored, removed from frustrating packaging, had batteries added or been assembled; the family has then enjoyed a Christmas breakfast ranging from the simple and ordinary to the elaborate and extreme. Now, the youngest family members are down for a Christmas midday nap; the next youngest are playing with their Christmas toys; the next youngest are settling in for a good Christmas squabble until Dad notices, and so on. Everyone is relaxed, Christmas music plays softly--and Mom heads for the kitchen to get preparations underway for Christmas dinner.

So far, so good, right? But unless Mom is an enthusiastic cook who dreams up and plans her Christmas dinner with joy, what happens next can vary a lot...and so can Mom's mood and her enjoyment of Christmas.

One of the problems for us Americans is that we've had Thanksgiving a month before. Some families find it extremely important for Christmas dinner to be Thanksgiving Mark II, complete with turkey, dressing, cranberries, traditional sides, fine china and glassware, and all the panoply of the Thanksgiving meal, with, perhaps, a few unique Christmas touches (such as, perhaps, a real Christmas pudding, though that is not something I've ever tasted myself). Other desserts may be anything from the much-maligned yet under-appreciated fruitcake to the same sorts of pies one might serve at Thanksgiving; and the whole scene is supposed to convey the rosy glow of a Norman Rockwell painting.

But I have to be honest: I find the idea of cooking what is essentially a second Thanksgiving dinner a month after Thanksgiving rather difficult. On Thanksgiving Day the cook or cooks have the whole day to prepare and cook the meal; on Christmas Day the cook has considerably less time, and unless he or she absolutely loves cooking a huge meal and finds it a relaxing and enjoyable hobby to do so he or she is possibly going to be a bit cranky by the time the family troops in to eat. And, let's face it: preparing what is essentially the same "Holiday Meal" twice in a month is a bit boring. Sure, you could change the main course from a turkey to a ham or vice versa, and you can tinker with the sides and desserts a bit, but you're essentially doing the exact same sort of cooking.

Now, I know that lots of people skip the "Second Thanksgiving" type of Christmas dinner. There are all sorts of other meals that individual families embrace as their own family tradition. For instance, my sister's late mother-in-law reportedly made Christmas a day for a deli spread (which would be great in Texas in years when it's 70 degrees at Christmas). Around here, it's traditional for some people to order tamales for Christmas (or for New Year's). Many cultures have traditional Christmas foods which are very far from what is customary in our culture.

So, my bleg is this: I'd like to hear from readers who have Christmas food traditions that go beyond a second round of Thanksgiving fare. What do you cook and serve? Is it a family custom, a cultural tradition, or some combination? Is Christmas a day to pull out all the stops and go gourmet, or is it a day for a sort of glorified snacking?

Share recipes, if you like! I'm hoping to get some new ideas, having done everything from a fairly traditional Christmas dinner to some decidedly non-traditional choices in years past.

I'm posting this rather late, but I'll check in for comments first thing tomorrow. :)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Schlocky songs of the retail season

I saw the above comic at XKCD, and it made me laugh in that rueful way that we Gen-X types tend to laugh about the cultural dominance of the Baby Boom generation. It's funny because it's true.

What's also true is that there's only one religious song on the "Baby Boom" chart area, and only two on the whole chart. Which is one of the reasons that being bombarded with so-called "Christmas music" on radio stations, in stores, and in public places from about the end of October until noon on Christmas Day is so deeply, deeply annoying.

It's not that I want to be racing through some ugly ShopMartGoGetBuyStore while being serenaded by religious songs, either; in fact, there's little in life that's more jarring than doing some Christmas shopping while hearing some electronically-enhanced minimally talented pop star jazzing up Silent Night or something similar. To focus in on the Babe of Bethlehem is to realize with a sickening sense of shock that our culture is absolutely mad in its consumerist frenzy which just happens to coincide with that holiday Christians call Christmas.

At least it's the secular songs that most often get parodied in commercials, particularly car commercials. No, I don't want to celebrate "Happy Honda (tm) Days," and no, I don't think the current Nissan (tm) sale is "The Most Wonderful Sale of the Year." But it would be a heck of a lot more offensive if someone started singing "O Come, All Ye Shoppers," "What Deal is This?" or "Savings We Have Seen on High," or some such stupidity.

There are nine more days left of Advent, which means nine more days of being surrounded by the verbal equivalent of cheap tinsel. After that, when the Christian world actually begins celebrating the Christmas season, the stores will be busily dealing with Christmas returns and gearing up for the next big retail holiday, the January Clearance/pre-Valentine's Day Sale. But at least we won't be bombarded with special schlocky songs during that retail season; at least, we'll only be bombarded with the usual schlocky songs that stores play for our ceaseless torment.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Gung-ho for Gingrich?

As the last debate of the Republican primary gets underway later tonight, I find myself primarily thinking something along the lines of "Newt Gingrich? Really?" and speculating that if Gingrich is, indeed, the nominee, the Obama camp is going to party like it's 1999 (the year Gingrich resigned from the House of Representatives, for those of my readers too young to remember).

It's not that I can't understand why in a field of shining mediocrity someone like Gingrich would stand out to some Republican voters. What, really, are the other choices? Romney the perpetually underwhelming, whose strong conservative credentials date back all of five minutes or so in election timing (and not even that, to critics of Massachusetts' health care system and easy-imposition of gay marriage under his watch)? Rick Perry of Trans-Texas-Corridor and "hang-em-high" fame? Ron Paul, who tends to make enough sense to make our ruling class deeply uncomfortable, but who is not without problems of his own? Darling of many Catholics Rick Santorum, who looks like the clear moral choice until you start checking his record on torture ("enhanced interrogation") and wondering why he's bashing the bishops on immigration? Michele Bachmann or Jon Huntsman, neither of whom have had what you might call traction since this whole thing started?

Against such a field of glittering inadequacy, Newt Gingrich stands out with a near-presidential aura. He can, after all, speak well (and he doesn't need a teleprompter). He is a Catholic convert and a family man (provided you focus only on his single recent valid marriage and not on the two earlier ones whose endings involved adultery). He says all of the right sort of red-meat/Red State things to all of the right sorts of people. And he's perfectly able to bash Washington insiders with a straight face, despite having been one for much of his own adult life.

What I find amazing is that some of the same people who are currently gung-ho for Gingrich had all sorts of complaints about the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue--complaints about his being more style than substance, complaints about his being essentially a good speech maker but little else, complaints about his having no new ideas and no serious plan to implement the hope and change he was talking about, and so on. But ask any of them what Gingrich's qualifications for the presidency are, and they'll talk about the long-ago Contract with America (that didn't quite pan out as expected); ask them what Gingrich's new ideas are, or how he plans to lead in a time of economic and political uncertainty, and you'll find it rather hard to get a substantive answer from many of Gingrich's self-declared supporters. The only idea seems to be that in an age of Twitter soundbites and marketing disguised as campaigning, Gingrich could beat Obama in what would probably prove to be a highly entertaining political campaign; we'll get around to defining what Gingrich is actually for or what he wants to do that's really substantially any different from what Romney or anybody else wants, once he's the nominee.

You would think that people would have had enough of four years of strong personality but erratic leadership in the White House, but you would probably be wrong. The narrative seems to be, "Sure, he's an unstable egotist with a tendency to grandstand, but he's our unstable egotist with a tendency to grandstand." Which is, alas, not all that reassuring.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Changes

Well, I'm back.

First of all, I want to express my deep gratitude to those of you who have sent me messages of encouragement and kindness "behind the scenes," so to speak. All of your emails, phone calls, etc. were very, very much appreciated. I know that I have a terrific set of regular readers and commenters, and I'm extremely grateful for that fact.

Which brings me to my second point: I've been disturbed a few times lately, culminating in the thread below a recent post, by the incursion of some newer and mainly anonymous commenters who seem to be generating more heat than light. Some of you in contacting me privately admitted that my comment boxes aren't friendly places, that in trying to maintain an atmosphere of free, easy conversation I've unwittingly made my blog a place where a few verbal bullies can shout down everyone else--while technically not violating my rules regarding civility or against obscenity. And that bothers me, because I'd rather have more of my regular readers feel as though they can chime in without having to worry that they or their ideas are going to be attacked or ridiculed by those whose facility with writing is such that they can disguise an attack as a merely rational question or point.

But knowing that this is the case, I have to address it. And though I've avoided making this particular decision for a long, long time, I think the time has come for me to implement moderated comments--which is the biggest change you will see in the days ahead.

I've got to be honest, here. I hate moderated comments. They seem to stifle conversation; they put commenters at the mercy of the blogger's often-varied schedule; they can create misunderstandings of the "why didn't you approve my perfectly innocent comment?" variety, and they can be a headache for both the blogger and his or her readers in a host of other ways.

However, I've reached the point in my blogging life where I just can't see a way around this. I want this blog to be a place where most readers feel perfectly safe in leaving comments, and that can't happen so long as verbal bullies can show up and leave drive-by postings which I may not see for hours. Even when someone has really crossed the line, and I delete his or her comment, the original commenter to whom they were responding may already have seen it, have been hurt by it, and possibly even wondered why on earth I let the hurtful comment stand. My only other option would be to ban all anonymous comments--and yet some of my most valued readers and commenters technically post "anonymously," though they are courteous enough to sign a name or nickname to each comment so we know to whom we're talking. So that option is out, as far as I'm concerned.

Moderated comments it is, then. I ask all of you for patience as I implement this major change.

There are a few minor changes as well. The most important of those is that I've taken the nearly-unprecedented step of deleting the post that caused all the trouble last week (I think I've only deleted a post once or twice before, and that was back in early blogging days when I just wasn't satisfied with something, long before I had regular readers and commenters). There's just no reason to leave it up right now. In future when I post anything at all about chastity, virtue, or sexual morality, I will remember that few people, including few self-described Christians, actually believe in any of those concepts any more, and will either leave comments closed or stay out of any combox battles that develop. I'm just going to have to take a Matthew 7:6 approach to discussions of chastity and sexual morality in the future.

I'm also deleting and rearranging some sidebar items (which won't matter to those of you who read this blog in a reader). There's no special reason for that; I'm just in a clutter-purging mood in my real life and it's carried over to the blog. My pledge not to vote for Republicans (I already don't vote for Democrats), my link to the big Legion post, etc. can still be found by searching my blog, but I have far too many items in my sidebar these days (and some, like the countdown clock for the new Mass translation, are, blessedly, out of date!).

Another minor change is that blogging may occasionally be a bit more sporadic and less news-driven than it has been in the past. While I still find myself most comfortable with a five-day posting schedule, there are times when I run out of time in a day and feel as though I should choose between tossing up a post anyway, regardless of quality, or skipping it altogether--and sometimes skipping it is clearly the better option. :)

Blogging will be especially sporadic, and possibly non-existent, during Christmas week, though as always I reserve the right to change my mind about that.

One final thing: at this time I formally place this blog, and all who enter to read it, under the protection of St. Michael the Archangel:

Sancte Michael Archangele,
defende nos in proelio.
contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium.
Imperet illi Deus, supplices deprecamur:
tuque, Princeps militiae coelestis,
Satanam aliosque spiritus malignos,
qui ad perditionem animarum pervagantur in mundo,
divina virtute, in infernum detrude.
Amen.


Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle;
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray:
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.

Comments--moderated--are open again.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Taking a blog break

I was planning to write my Pantone "Color of the Year" post today--a lighthearted, silly bit of fluff that I do every year.

But after the ridiculousness that took place in a recent comment box, I'm done blogging for the time being.

Blog will reopen when I feel like it. If I feel like it.

Comments are closed.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Postless

No post today.

Dentist appointment.

Enough said.

Monday, December 5, 2011

People like us

I received the loveliest email from a reader yesterday; with the reader's kind permission, I share some of it with all of you:
I passed the local PP abortion clinic yesterday morning. There is a crisis pregnancy clinic less than half a block away. Yesterday morning a group was praying outside PP - which as far as I know doesn't offer its "services" on weekends. I pulled over and made the Asian sign of greeting - hands together as in prayer, smiled and waved. They weren't certain what I was going to do - I presume they are used to some hostility as well as some friendliness.

Once they decided I was a "friendly" they gave the sweetest, warmest smiles. I really can't believe I used to view pro-life witnesses with such hostility and suspicion. I feel like I've crawled out from under some rock. Imagine raging at people who want to protect babies.

Thank you for your part in lifting that veil of illusion. Buddhist practice, which includes a chant for the happiness of all beings, including specifically "those born and to be born" also played a role.

Offering women only the choice to kill their babies is a pathetic comment on our society. Or a comment on our pathetic society. Whichever or both!

First of all: Deo Gratias!

Secondly, I think that what my reader points out here is very important; one aspect of our pathetic society is that we tend to demonize those with whom we disagree. It's not enough for us to have sometimes deep philosophical differences; we have to convince ourselves that the one on the other side of an argument is really The Other, as in, the one with whom we have nothing to do.

I've been guilty of that myself in the past, and I most sincerely apologize for it. Christ taught His followers again and again that we are to see The Other as our neighbor, and then to love that neighbor as we love ourselves. This does not mean that we will always agree about things; it also doesn't mean that we are obligated to accept our neighbors' viewpoints or ideas when we do disagree. We just have to accept our neighbor in his or her intrinsic being as someone like ourselves, with the full worth of every son and daughter of the King Whom we await.

If we want to end the horror of abortion, if we want to stand against torture and the capricious use of the death penalty, if we want to work for a society of renewed morality, greater integrity, and a stronger sense of both justice and mercy for all, we have to start by remembering that the people on the opposite sides of any of these issues are people like us. For those of us who are Christians this means recalling that each of them is created, like us, in the image and likeness of God, called to the same noble destiny of eternal happiness with Him that we are. It means refusing to see them as monsters or demons. It means praying for them as earnestly, when they fall, as we would pray for one of our own family, and as we hope for our own salvation.

It means that the command to love our neighbors as we love ourselves is linked inextricably to the command to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strengths. And it means that we have to love all of our neighbors; perhaps we must love most those who annoy or irritate or frustrate or confound us the most.

My reader learned that the people praying for babies weren't really enemies, and the people praying outside that clinic learned that my reader was a friend. Imagine the good we could do if we could all learn this about each other; if we could keep that thought uppermost in our minds as we interact daily with The Others, only to find that they are our neighbors and friends.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Santa essay, for those who want to fight about it

I've had quite a few people searching this week for an old blog post of mine.

Actually, it was originally published as an essay at the Dallas Morning News; it may still be available in their archives, but I'm suspecting you might have to have a subscription to access it now.

Since 'tis the season, though, I thought I'd make it easy for those who are looking for it:

In my house tonight, the children will be waiting for St. Nicholas with eager joy. Not all Christian parents would be happy with this situation.

Some have decided that whether you call him Santa Claus or St. Nick, the Christmas Eve night caller is not welcome in their homes. The real St. Nicholas, they say, was a holy bishop about whom little is known. This jolly fellow surrounded with legends of secret generosity or stories of elves and reindeer is really just a fib. And Christians don't lie to their children.

Are we lying to our children, with our ancient stories and cherished poems of a kindly saint who loves all children and hears their whispered wishes and dreams? Not at all – we are telling them the truth. It's just that some truths can't be found in scholarly lectures or discovered in dry books of facts. When we teach our wide-eyed little ones the legend of St. Nicholas, we are teaching them essential lessons about faith, hope and unconditional love. When we sit by glowing embers to share with them our December stories, we instruct them in such virtues as generosity, patience and the sort of kindness that expects no reward.

And they are able to learn these things from us because for a few short weeks every year, we find it possible to enter the world of make-believe. We fill our homes with songs and stories, and turn ordinary rooms into glittering palaces. The everyday world is swept away.

Read the whole essay here.

I'm happy to report that my children suffered no damage from our sharing the mythical aspects of the St. Nicholas story with them, and even appreciated the whole thing when it was time for them to move beyond it.

I'm happy to share another blogger's experience of the same thing, and to point out that we need a bit more pretending around childhood, instead of the stern realism that wants five-year-olds taught the mechanics not only of sexual intercourse but of various perverse sex acts as well.

I'm happy to insist that we don't have to start the reading of every fairy tale or the playing of every princess DVD by sitting with our children and saying, "Now, you understand that this isn't true, right? That it's just a story? That there have never been dragons to be killed or enchanted princesses to be awakened with a kiss? I wouldn't want you going around and believing in any of this," even if they do, in fact, believe in a magical land full of princes in disguise and noble deeds and heroic chivalry until they're old enough to realize that the world of childhood enchantment wasn't strictly true--but that it ought to be.

And I'm happy to wish, as his feast day draws nearer, that all of my readers will welcome St. Nicholas, whether he visits their home and children or not--and that those who choose not to continue this charming tradition will not stigmatize the rest of us as evil liars bent on fraud and diabolical deceit--because we all know that the hallmark of the evil one is stepping back and letting a holy saint in Heaven take the lion's share of the credit for parental generosity and gifts of love once a year, right?

Um, not.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What do Catholic men want to talk about?

Patrick Archbold says that girl Catholic bloggers get all the fun:

Girls get all the good topics. By good, I mean the kind that lead to lady cat fights in the comboxes, ya know, good. Guys just don’t have this kind of well from which to draw from. I think some examples are in order.

Breast feeding. Girls can go there, guys can’t even drive by the neighborhood. I am even uncomfortable writing the word. But female Catholic bloggers always have the breast feeding font from which to draw material. I realize in retrospect that the wording in the previous sentence was probably ill-conceived, but you get the point. Whether you are pro, con, indifferent, a BF nazi, an anti-BF nazi, or any combination thereof depending on your hormone balance, you have a ready made BF post just ready to pump out. Ok, ill-conceived again, but still. Guys just do not have anything comparable guaranteed to fire up the crowds.

Modesty. This is a great topic that is almost completely off limits for Catholic dudes. Let’s face it, if I write a 1000 word post on the proper placing of hemlines so as to look feminine yet not unduly tempt anyone, several things can happen and all of them are bad. Many involve restraining orders. But girls can simply write “I think that shorts on women are ....” and voila, instant and vicious combox mud-wrestling by women in Laura Ingalls dresses. You just can’t buy that kind of clean fun. But no. Guys can’t write about modesty because we don’t get it and if we do get it, it just proves we are insensitive or pervs, or worse, an insensitive perv or something…

Read the rest here.

I posted a reply to Pat on the website, but the Register's comment form is being a bit twitchy and wants to moderate what I wrote (probably because it's a bit lengthy, and not because of my history of being critical over there). While I'm waiting for my comment to show up, I thought I'd just share what I wrote over here--because that's another way to get a post done when it's nearly 11 pm CST and one hasn't blogged yet:
Oh, come now, Patrick. I'll grant you that as a non-girly yet female blogger I get to have the catfight topics *and* the geopolitical ones. But I've never seen a fight break out over modesty or nursing that comes even close to the fights that break out regarding these topics:

-whether or not torture is ever permitted (and whether waterboarding counts);
-whether the death penalty ought to be banned, even if the Pope says so;
-whether the GOP is still the great Catholic hope against abortion even if Romney the Perennially Uninspiring is the nominee

And in addition, here's some "manly Catholic guy" topics that will probably get some conversations going:

-whether signing your children up for organized sports is a required act of Catholic manliness or a form of insanity;
-whether or not Real Men smoke, and if so, what (so far, the voting among men seems to this way: pipes and/or cigars, Truly Catholic and Manly; cigarettes or illegal substances, just stupid)
-whether you should let your sons be altar servers if girls get to do it;
-guns in the house: yes or no?
-the exact level of housework/chores a man can do before he risks losing his masculinity;
-whether or not Real Catholic Men use NFP

Those are just for starters, of course; next time you get stuck at 11:30 and are falling back on the boring yet geopolitical, just drop me an email, and I'll be happy to help! Especially since the modesty/nursing/endearing children stuff is DONE TO DEATH, and I'd love to see a good male-combox wrestling match over any of the male-friendly topics listed above or probably about a dozen others. :)
I have no idea whether or not Pat will ever take me up on my offer--and I do have a few more topics to suggest. But right now, I'd like to hear from my male readers, especially my Catholic ones: what topics pertaining specifically to lay male Catholics and their struggles to live the faith in today's world would you like to see bloggers address? Are there any that you think have been addressed either a) never or b) so rarely that it seems like never?

Because I think the reason female Catholic bloggers bring up nursing and modesty and cute things our kids do and educational struggles and those sorts of topics are not just to generate traffic and links, but because women do seem to want to talk about these things. Since I'm not a mommy blogger, I don't tend to blog about these topics all that often (and I've learned to stay out of actual, bona fide catfights). But is it true that men don't have similar topics they'd like to discuss, or is it simply the case that men's topics get short shrift in the Catholic blogosphere? What, exactly, do Catholic men want to talk about? I'd be happy to help host some of those conversations, too, even if I am a girl and all.