Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I was on my way from Hobby Lobby to Kroger today when my mobile buzzed.

"Hello?" I said after pressing my speaker phone button.

"Hi, honey," my husband said. "I'm on my way home from work. Where are you?"

"I'm headed over to the Cross Street Kroger."

"Well, I'm on Scatterfield getting ready to turn right on Eighth Street, so I'll be home in a few minutes."

Nonplussed, I looked around me. I was on Scatterfield at the Eighth Street intersection. And there he was in his familiar Chevy Blazer, phone pressed to his head.

"Hi!" I sang. "Look across the street."

I saw his head turn and I waved. "Well, hey there," he replied, laughing. "Good to see ya!"

"You too! I'll be home in twenty minutes."

"Okay...whoops, hey, my light just turned green. Love ya."

It's funny how, when you see someone who is as familiar to you as your own hand in an unexpected place, they look somehow different and you think with some sense of amazement, "That's MY HUSBAND." Or wife, sister, son, granny or whoever. It was a funny little incident that made me smile today.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Human nature [mine specifically]

If I were, say, in a parking lot. And there was someone backing out of a parking space who did so in a manner that struck me as being boneheaded -- just shooting straight back with only a minimal fuss regarding mirrors, pedestrians, stray shopping carts and, incidentally, MY CAR -- I would say something like, "Geez, you ridiculous turd! SLOW DOWN and take a look around, how's about?"

But if there was another person who, while I was waiting to park in the space his or her car was currently occupying, s-l-o-w-l-y unloaded the groceries, climbed carefully into the car, laboriously fastened the seat belt, turned on the car and then checked every mirror twice," I would respond by muttering, "Yes, I've got ALL DAY to sit here waiting for you. Please take your time. Check your phone messages! Find another radio station! Take a look at your teeth in the vanity mirror! I've nothing urgent going on and it's SO MUCH FUN sitting here in this parking lot waiting on you to LEAVE, I'm just nearly beside myself with excitement."

I simply cannot be pleased. I don't think this speaks well for my character.

NUNDAY: The hour of mercy

With so much crazy going on in the world right now, I wanted to take a moment to thank all the cloistered sisters -- mostly Poor Clares and Carmelites here in the United States, with a few Passionists, Redemptorists, Benedictines and Dominicans gathered into the mix -- for their vocation of prayer for the world. Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline, the good sisters are on their knees in their chapels, praying for us all.

If you want to pray too, check out for the Ordinary of the Divine Office by clicking here.

If you are in need of prayer, you can call the Carmelites in Terre Haute, Indiana and the nuns, who pray a minimum of six hours a day, will put you and your intentions on their prayer list. You can call their prayer line 24/7/365 and the number is 812-299-1410 or you can write to them the old-fashioned way at Carmelite Monastery, 19 Allendale, Terre Haute, Indiana 47802-4751.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The unbearable brightness of seeing

I've been invited, on Facebook, to participate in something called "Earth Hour," an event of which I was previously unaware. And it's a good thing, as it turns out, because there's nothing like happenings like Earth Hour to exasperate the living [deleted to spare my mother's feelings] out of me and undo all the good that's being done in me by the application of greater amounts of prayer during Lent and some pre-menopause vitamins my husband picked up for me at GNC.

Earth Hour, which will happen tomorrow, March 26 at 8:30 p.m., is the time when we are all to shut off the lights in our houses to "take a stand against climate change." (See the Earth Hour website by clicking here.) According to the website, this is more than just fumbling around in the dark for sixty minutes and whacking your ankle against the coffee table, it is "all about giving people a voice and working together to create a better future for our planet."

I am not sure how shutting off the lights in the house for an hour is supposed to give people a voice, although I can see that there might be a bunch of voices lifted up yelling, "Oh, $#&@!" as they hurt themselves in the dark. Apparently, this is about "sustainability issues," and stopping "the degradation of the Earth's natural environment" and also, loftily, "building a future where people live in harmony with nature."

What a load of crap.

People do not live in harmony with nature because nature, my Earth Hour friends, is the boss. Ask the people of Japan. Their country ran right up against nature in that earthquake and the following tsunami and there is nothing harmonious AT ALL about that mess. Their lights have been turned off for them and it is absolutely nothing that they wanted to happen.

Our pioneer ancestors here in the United States lived much closer to nature than we do. Here in Indiana, my forebears and their neighbors didn't have electricity. They didn't have running water. They didn't have indoor plumbing. And you know what? Their entire EXISTENCE was about keeping nature at bay, conquering it. Can you imagine what a relief and a joy it was to those people to spend years clearing their land, eventually building barns and replacing their log cabins with real houses? Can you imagine how exciting it was to have "the electric," as my great-grandparents called it, run to those houses? How amazing it was to have water, both cold and hot, running in sinks in the kitchen and the bathroom? How amazing it was to have a coal furnace that kept everyone warm?

We are soft, now. We've lived so long with those amenities that we've forgotten how lucky we are to have them. We've lived so long with them that we -- or at least some of us -- have the gall to scorn them. I think the biggest irony is that this Earth Hour palaver has been spread largely through the internet. Which operates ON ELECTRICITY, with desk top models that are plugged into wall outlets and laptop batteries that are charged and why does this fact seem to have escaped so many?

And why don't those same people understand that the constant drive of civilization has been to be in harmony with nature by protecting ourselves from it? Nature is red in tooth in claw not only in wildlife; it's also pretty down and dirty environmentally, as in the aforementioned Japan. I wonder if any of these folks who plan to turn their lights off at 8:30 tomorrow suffered through Katrina, when the whole push was to put as much of a halt to Mother Nature's gallop as they could after the terrible flooding. People needed food to eat that was unspoiled. They needed potable water. They needed toilets and beds and places to wash themselves and their clothes.

Three of those things I mentioned depend largely on electricity. Efficient cooking, bathing and washing can be accomplished through solar power, I suppose, but when the need is urgent, there's nothing like a big old generator to get things done. You can drink warm water out of bottles. And unless you have one of those adjustable beds or an electric blanket, the place where you sleep is electricity-free.

But then you have to think about the people who are served by electricity in ways beyond the normal scope of most people's lives. What about the people who are on dialysis machines? Ventilors? What about babies in NICU in their incubators? What about the people who need radiation treatments and MRIs and CAT scans and surgery? Do you want a surgeon to take out your gall bladder by candlelight? No? Can't blame you. Neither do I. Thank goodness we have all this EVIL electricity to keep all those things going so that people don't have to die at birth, like they did in generations past because we didn't have the technology to hook a baby up to an electric heart monitor. Thank goodness our life expectancy isn't 40 years old, which was the average life span for a man in 1900. You can get treatments for your cancer or your failing kidneys and any number of other ailments that used to kill people by the dozens. Thanks to electricity.

The last thing that strikes me as being so bogus about Earth Hour is this: We're all being called to turn off our lights at 8:30 tomorrow evening. Just the lights. No one is being asked to unplug the computer or the television, the washer and dryer, the refrigerator. Please tell me - what good does this do? Yes, yes, "raise awareness," blah blah blah. Big flippin' deal. This serves no purpose whatsoever, unless it might actually wake some people up so that they can see how fortunate we are to live now, in this time and place. With electricity and the technology that's been brought into being through it. And Nature, kept at bay, so that we can enjoy this easy life we've been given in civilization.


I had to make the executive decision (as CEO of the kitchen here at the home place) to skip over the scallops with caramel-orange sauce that were the actual French Fridays with Dorie recipe for this week because I knew that I'd be the only one willing to eat them and fresh scallops are too expensive just for a private little lunch dish for me, so I backtracked two weeks to make the Beggar's Linguine on pages 370 and 371 of the Around My French Table cookbook by Dorie Greenspan.

This recipe is a real oddball, which is not something you immediately sense when you read the title. Because what could be more innocent and bland than linguine, pictured there above in the strainer in my kitchen sink? Well, you're about to find out, my dears.

Beggar's Linguine is a really simple, peasanty sort of food. So simple and peasanty, in fact, that my immediate reaction upon reading the recipe was "Oh, HELLS to the no." Because the sauce that covers the pasta is as buttery and rich as could possibly be desired, but the flavors that mingle in all that butter are as follows: Mission figs. Pistachios. Raisins. Almonds. Orange zest. All of which you can see in the picture above, sitting there on my cutting board and waiting to be stirred into the melted, foaming butter on the stove.

Okaaaay. So is this a main course or some weird little dessert featuring noodles? I was confused and had a moment of wondering if Dorie was TOYING WITH US ALL. I mean, last week it was those sweet/salty, crackers? Who knows what they were, other than good? And now she's asking me to make a pasta dish with dried fruit and nuts?

Kayte offered reassurance -- she said she liked it and would definitely make it again, so I put my head down and forged onward.

Honestly, this picture doesn't do the Beggar's Linguine justice. I tried to make all the fruit and nuts come to the top of the bowl, but I kept spilling heavily buttered linguine onto the counter, so I gave it up and hoped for the best with some parsley and the orange zest. It really is an attractive-looking dish.

The girls and I ate it for lunch yesterday and agreed that there were things we did like about it -- the butter, the parmesan, the linguine, the pistachios -- and there were things we didn't like, namely, the figs. Aisling thought the figs were too sweet, Meelyn thought they were too chewy. I thought they were all right and I didn't hate them.

We also felt that it was hard to eat. You want to twirl that linguine on your fork, but then you can't get all those small pieces of fig, almond, pistachio and raisin on there too. It was a dish that made you work for your meal, so maybe you....wouldn't be a beggar anymore and could move on to something more upscale, like a nice vodka sauce?

This was a good recipe and I'm really glad we tried it. The girls said it wasn't something they'd ever request again, but they thought it was interesting and a fun lunch. Would I make it again? Well, I think yes, on the whole. For one thing, it's a meatless meal that would be a good lunch on Fridays during Lent. For another thing, it's totally different than everything else we eat, which, to be honest, runs a lot to tacos and chili in a never-ending cycle: sometimes even the Meal Matrix can't save you from yourself. So I'm thinking that this week was also a success. Thank you, Dorie!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

FISH ON FRIDAY: The Tuna Casserole Project

This week's revolting casserole might as well have saved the money on that flat-leaf parsley garnish because did you ever see the likes of a plate of linguini covered with TUNA GRAVY? No, I thought not. You want the recipe? I'm not going to help you with a link because, really, you need to think this over before you click, for about six or seven months at least. Google "Tuna Gravy" and you'll find a number of recipes at, one that will even allow you to add "canned peas (optional)."

I just called my husband over to take a peek at the image and he peered at it, frowned, looked a little closer and then said in an offended voice, "Why would you make me look at something like that?"

Because misery loves company, baby.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Please feel free to call me honey

I went to Aldi today to do the weekly food shopping and I went alone for once. I usually take at least one of the girls with me because Aldi is one of those bag-and-tote-it-yerself places and it's always nice to have an extra set of hands when you're sacking it all up and stowing it away in the car. But today I was on my own, which means I am free to enter into conversations with total strangers, a character trait which the girls discourage, my mother completely understands and my brother finds utterly reprehensible.

"I suppose you're one of those people who talks to people in line at Disney World and the movie theater and in the waiting area of the Outback," he said superciliously.

"Oh, yes," I replied. "I am particularly friendly at the Outback because I'm usually working on a Foster's draft."

I wasn't drinking a beer at Aldi when I was standing in line with my shopping cart full of groceries, but I struck up a little conversation with the elderly man behind me who was holding a gallon of milk in each hand.

"Why don't you go in line ahead of me?" I asked. "Your hands are going to get really cold standing there holding that milk and I've got an awful lot of stuff in this cart."

"Why thanks!" he said, smiling and nodding his head affably. "My hands were already kind of cold and I'd just got to the line."

He went up ahead of me and we chatted about the deliciousness of the Aldi brand green tea as compared to the way more expensive Bigelow and Lipton brands. When he was ready to leave, he turned and called out, "Thanks again, ma'am!"

It was kind of odd being called "ma'am" by someone who was clearly old enough to be my grandpa, but I smiled and said, "You're welcome."

Evidently it struck him the same way because he went toward the automatic doors, but paused and turned back around. "Ordinarily, I would have called you honey," he said apologetically, "but my granddaughters tell me I'm not supposed to do that anymore."

The cashier and I both giggled. "You can call me honey anytime you want to, honey," I said generously.

"Me, too," offered the cashier.

"Aw, it's just a good old world, isn't it?" he asked engagingly, and left with his milk.

Monday, March 21, 2011

NUNDAY: How to have fun during Lent

These sisters chose to work a picture puzzle during their recreation time on Ash Wednesday and it looks like the postulant in the foreground just got caught hiding about five of the thousand pieces up her sleeve.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


These may be daffodils. Or maybe tulips. For all I know, they could be flesh-eating plants from the Little Nursery of Horrors - I don't know which flowers are what kind until they're blooming and sometimes not even then. All I do know is that these are GREEN and they're poking THROUGH THE SOIL and they aren't frozen stiff or buried in snow, so that can mean only one thing: The television programming is, like, all basketball, all the time.

You thought I was going to say "Spring has sprung" didn't you?


Saturday, March 19, 2011

FRENCH FRIDAYS WITH DORIE: Salted Butter Break-Ups (Broyé)

Kayte, Katie and I have been really inconsistent in our posting of recipes made with the internet cooking group French Fridays with Dorie, which uses Dorie's lovely book Around My French Table and I am very relieved that FFw/D is not one of the more uptight cooking groups on the internet where if you fail to post a recipe on the assigned date, the other members of the group hunt you down and beat you with their spatulas. This week, however, we were all at the top of our game and made these weird little....cookies? Crackers? I don't think we've figured out exactly what they are yet; Dorie calls them "Salted Butter Break-Aways," but in France, they're called broyés, which means "crushed" or "crumbled."

This was one of the easiest recipes I've made so far -- uhhm, not that I've made that many from this cookbook -- but since it was a simple matter of flour, sugar, butter and sea salt, it was kind of hard to find a reason not to. So I did, and they're a very unusual....cracker? Cookie?....anyway, nothing like anything I've ever eaten before.

The recipe sounded as if they'd be something like a Lantz Captain's Wafer, you know, those little rectangular butter crackers that you can get in individual cellophane wrappers at salad bars? Or like a Keebler Club cracker: crunchy, slightly sweet, slightly salty. As it turns out, the broyés are not really like either of those things. For one thing, they're not as crackery, being crumbly yet more pliable and less dry than what we Americans think of as a cracker. Secondly, with two-thirds of a cup of sugar, they're much sweeter than any cracker we commonly eat, but with one teaspoon of coarse sea salt, they're much saltier than any cookie found on the aisle of any grocery store you care to name. In short, these, ...cra-...whatever they are, simply can't be defined in terms of American tastes.

They are good, though! You mix up the dough in the food processor as you'd do for a pastry, shape it into a flattish square and then chill it for an hour. At the end of that time period, you roll it out into a nice, flat sheet, score it prettily with fork tines (my favorite part) and paint it with a glaze made of egg yolk. Yes, that's right: egg yolk. Not egg white, which is the most commonly used glaze ever if you want to give your food a nice shine. Yolk.

I am not much of an egg person, have I ever mentioned that? Especially the yolks.

When you bake the broyés or break-ups or whatever you want to call them, they're supposed to come out crispy on the edges and firm-with-a-spring in the center, which is how mine came out. To serve, you just....break off a piece, whatever size you'd care to eat. Which is kind of fun. I liked all those funny, misshapen pieces and broke up the entire thing so that it would be easier to store.

I found that broyés go deliciously well with, say, a slice of Swiss cheese. Maybe a nice, sharp Cheddar? I didn't have any of that, nor did I have any Gouda, but both seem like they'd pair up very amicably. I also pictured some sweet grapes or a sliced apple and a glass of moscato; in short, the makings for a very nice little picnic at the park on a day in the spring, just you and your bien-aimé, who would probably eat, lean back on one elbow and then say, "That was nice, but how's about we pack all this up and go get a real lunch?"

If I were to do these crookies -- that's the only way I can think of to describe them -- again, and I probably will because they were good, I'd use only half the sugar (or maybe even less than that) and a little more salt, just a pinch. And I would definitely glaze them, but only with white of egg because yolks are just so yucky.

All in all, a success!

FISH ON FRIDAY: The Tuna Casserole Project

Here is this week's offering, shown to you because? At your Catholic high school? The cafeteria ladies hate you.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

20th Anniversary approaching!

I just got a telephone call from my husband, who said, "You know, with our twentieth anniversary coming up in June, I thought it would be nice if we did something special, so I made hotel reservations in downtown Indy and got us a table at Ruth's Chris Steak House. How's that sound?"

How does that sound? Does this man know me or what? Downtown in Indianapolis with the Indiana Historical Society and the Indiana State Museum and noon Mass at beautiful Old St. John's and the Indianapolis Museum of Art just a short jaunt away, PLUS STEAK??!!

I am already packing my bags.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Skip on over to Etsy

These gorgeous keepsakes are available over at the Etsy page of St. Luke's Brush and have you ever seen such incredible work on humble eggs and wooden pegs? Featured in this picture are the eggs in the forefront of the picture, obviously, with rosary boxes behind them. In the last row are customized saint wooden pegs; any saint you'd choose to name, this gifted artist will paint. What great gifts these would make for Easter, baptism anniversaries, name it. And I guarantee that they aren't nearly as expensive as you might be thinking they'd be for such amazingly detailed work.

The artist behind St. Luke's Brush is a father of four and "an aspiring commercial and fine artist," as well as being a member of the Catholic Etsy Artist's Guild (search "teamcatholic" to find other artists.) If you'd like to follow St. Luke's Brush on Facebook, copy and paste the following URL into your address bar:

NUNDAY: Pass the Cheetos!

You might recall that Pope Benedict XVI, who looks a great deal like my Grandad, visited the United States in April 2008 and that lots and lots of people went to see him, including these Domincan Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist from Ann Arbor, Michigan. The sisters had a chartered bus to take them from Michigan to Maryland, and just in case they got hungry on the long trip, they each packed a little red tote bag full of snacks. (Word has it that there was also reading material available to while away the time, as well as puzzle books.) I hope that their beautiful white habits weren't covered with orange Cheeto fingerprints by the time they saw His Holiness.

I would seriously love to travel with these sisters. Not only are they smiling and happy, they are serious snackers. My kind of people.

Friday, March 11, 2011

FISH ON FRIDAY: The Tuna Casserole Project

Today is the start of a new bit on InsomniMom that I'm calling the Tuna Casserole Project.* Just for some lighthearted fun, you know? Unless you're one of the four people in North America who really likes tuna casserole, and I have to confess that if you are, I just don't know what to do with you. Stage an intervention? Write to the archdiocese for the name and number of the nearest exorcist? Weep sorrowful tears over a can of BumbleBee? All three? I'm stuck.

Anyway, tuna casserole is funny. People have such BIG reactions to it. You hardly ever hear someone say indifferently, "Tuna casserole? Yeah, my mom used to make that. I didn't much care for it." No, with tuna casserole you get reactions like a belligerent, "DO NOT EVER SPEAK THOSE TWO WORDS TO ME AGAIN" or perhaps a quivering voice whispering, "Sometimes when I have a fever, I can still smell that smell....that terrible, terrible smell...." accompanied by hand-wringing and a facial tic.

This Friday's offering is one that I named "Vomit on a Plate." I took a quick, holding-breath peek at the recipe and while it doesn't actually call for vomit, it does call for canned cream of mushroom soup and a great many peas and a generous amount of overcooked elbow macaroni. Plus the tuna, of course. By themselves, those things don't look vomity -- well, canned cream of mushroom soup isn't really what I'd call beautiful or anything, but still... -- but mixed all together and baked in a dish? It comes out looking like this and I'm not sure how you could get it onto your fork, let alone near your mouth. Totally yucktastic.

*These are images from the internet that have been deliberately posted by the people who made these casseroles. Yes, there are actual RECIPES for these things out there, but I'm not going to post them or even link to them because first of all, you don't really want to make something that looks like that, do you? And second of all, if you did make something that looked like that, let alone posted a recipe for it on the internet and served it to your family? Would YOU want to be outed? I think not.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I'm just as sick of snow as the next person, but...

I found this YouTube video of Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, England, Will's hometown, on another site this morning and had to imbed it here. Because even though it's snow and winter is unspeakably vile, this is still Stratford, right?

There are several really great views of Shakespeare's childhood-into-adulthood home on Henley Street, some beautiful stills of the spire of Trinity Church where he was both baptized and interred, a few peeks at the snowy garden (absolutely radiant in summer) that marks the site of New Place, the house he bought and came to live in at his retirement, plus some nice looks at the Guild Hall, including a great shot of the second story windows that comprise the King Edward IV Grammar School where young Will learned his Latin and his love for Ovid. If you're a Shakespeare fan, it's a lovely mini-tour. If you're not, well, it's just a bunch of dreary snow and don't bother.

By the way, I don't think that slushie stand was there when Will was a lad....

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

It's official!! (Meditation on Lent at 12:24 a.m.)

I am sitting here in front of the computer when I should be sleeping. It's a perfect night for sleep -- chilly and rainy, with a chance of smooth, clean sheets on the bed -- and why I'm wide awake is something I wish I could change, especially since all this awakeness is only going to lead to Ash Wednesday being one REALLY LONG DAY.

Here's the thing: On the home schooling e-list I'm a member of and amongst my friends on Facebook, there's been an article circulating about, an article with an idea that many of my friends have said is "the perfect thing for Lent," as if we're talking about a really great necklace to accessorize a party dress. So I, being the nosey kind of person I am, and also piously hoping to have the Best Lent Ever! went like an idiot and looked at this article and immediately wanted to go off into a corner and, I don't know, maybe just DIE a little bit, not much, but reviving enough to go to 6:00 Mass today and get my ashes.

Here's the article. Read it at your peril, if you're some kind of person who is crazed with self-loathing or maybe just a grouchy old bat like me. I mean, I'm sure Mrs. Wittman is a lovely person, but oh my holy saints and angels, what kind of mind can come up with this sort of torture and even type Sunday is a Day Off! in bold type with an exclamation point? I would certainly think that Sunday would be a day off: you're going to need at least 24 hours to drag yourself to the hospital so that they can give you some glucose and some penicillin and some drug with plenty of codeine in it. All so that you can go back home on Monday morning and start the whole dreary business again.

All in twenty minutes, twice a day.

During that forty minutes, you have to do things like deep clean the kitchen, wipe down all light fixtures, clean out closets, organize the Tupperware, built a storage shed out back, hand polish each blade of grass in the front yard, clear the trash off at least three major thoroughfares in your city and climb to the roof of your church to personally inspect and repair each individual slate shingle.

Well, okay, some of the things on that list might have been slight exaggerations. But I'm not joking about the Tupperware! And I am also not joking that, down at the bottom of that list, there is an entry for Day 39 (Good Friday) that instructs me to "Prepare kitchen for Easter baking." Are you KIDDING me??!! All forty days of work and I still have to do something called "Easter baking"? At that point, I'm sure that all I would be baking is my own head, placed in the oven with a note pinned to my back that would read: "I JUST CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE. ALL THIS AND NO SWEETS - TOO MUCH!"

I do hope that my friends who have decided to undertake this challenge will meet with success, and although I insist on a clean and tidy house myself, I found as I read that list that I really don't care quite THAT much. I am okay with Fly Lady and her much more relaxed manner of dealing with dirt and clutter; I don't get that stressed-out feeling that I have now, the one that has totally wiped the sleep from my eyes as I contemplate Garage Week, Day 31 -- Throw out all unnecessary junk. I am completely unwound by that thought, and I don't even have a garage.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Not just for your dryer anymore

Oh, I know they're spelled differently -- lint, Lent -- one is a common noun that describes all that fuzzy stuff that comes off your clothes as they're being tumble dried. I have a very artistic friend who created gorgeous handmade writing paper out of dryer lint once. Lent, the proper noun, is that forty day period of fasting and abstinence before Easter, when Catholic and (some) Protestant Christians alike walk with Jesus, uniting with Him in His Passion and celebrating His resurrection while anticipating His second coming.

Lent is a time of year that I always look forward to, although upon reflection I'm not sure why: I'm not all that good at it. There was, for instance, that year I gave up Diet Coke as a personal sacrifice and by the third of the six weeks, my family members were all going around with big, frightened eyes and white faces. Then there was the time I gave up sweets and berated myself loudly one morning for having jelly on my toast. ("Don't you think you're taking this to a ridiculous extreme?" my husband asked warily. "No," I replied. "I'm just sad because, if I had to goof up on my no-sweets fast, why did it have to be with TOAST and why couldn't it have been NUTELLA?!?")

I also start out with great spiritual plans: I will read a chapter of the Bible per day, pray a rosary, go to weekday Mass on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, plus go to the Stations of the Cross at least three times. I'll do both the morning and evening prayers! I'll read at least two books on the lives of the saints (making sure to choose people who were not gruesomely martyred, because eww.) That's always the plan on Ash Wednesday, anyway. By the first Sunday, I've already managed to crumble, substituting one decade for an entire rosary and looking at my Bible and feeling guilty instead of actually opening it.

Considering all this, is it any wonder that a non-Catholic, non-Lent-participating Protestant friend asked me, "If Lent is so hard, why do it?"

Ah, there's the rub. Why do it? Why go through six weeks of self-denial and abortive attempts to attain spiritual growth?

Because it's good for the soul, that's why. Jesus taught us to fast; he fasted forty days in the desert. Jesus taught us about self-denial; he went to the cross for us. Jesus taught us about prayer; at times, he took himself apart from the disciples to spent time in communion with his Father. At other times, he prayed with them.

Any time we work to be more like him, Jesus meets us more than halfway. And then there's that spiritual harvest thing: the more you give Jesus -- your love of desserts, your willingness to meditate on his life while praying the rosary, your trip into the confessional, and the money you'd usually spend on buying a fancy coffee dropped quietly into the poor box -- the more he gives you back. Seriously, even when my grandiose plans for spiritual advancement fall through and I end up doing only about a quarter of what I originally intended, I always feel like the measure that has been pressed down, shaken together and running over by Good Friday. I feel close to Jesus (I can hear him saying quite clearly, "Okay. STOP IT" when I'm thinking about doing something that would not make him proud, one of the less agreeable parts of that Lenten Closeness.)

I feel good.

And when the Easter Vigil is over and we're driving home in the darkness with the sounds of the bells and the Gloria still ringing in our ears, that's when I feel the best. Exultant, as sweet and full as the Communion cup I've sipped from, glowing in the true presence of the Savior.

So let's just say that I've experienced Easter Sundays without the trials of Lent beforehand and with those trials set constantly before me, and I would never, ever go back to the first way. You can only have a true Easter, a real shiny-happy glorious Easter if you've humbled yourself to suffer with Jesus in the desert.

Ten years ago, I would have never thought that could possibly be true. I would have said, quite wrongly, that God has no need of our silly sacrifices. The pastor of the Protestant church I was attending back then even said it during one of his sermons: "I can't understand why those Catholics think that their 'giving up' something matters to God." How could it possibly matter to God, who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, if I stop eating candy for six weeks? Does it really matter if I give up Facebook or watching HGTV? Doesn't that seem a little weird, to think that God cares about such trivial things?

If you believe that, then let me ask you this: If your ten year old mowed the neighbor's lawn for week after sweaty week and then used some of the money he earned to buy you a birthday present, would you find that trivial? Would you say, "Aww, that's sweet, son, but listen, this is just a Penguin paperback you bought with the money you earned from cutting Mrs. Franklin's grass. It's not like this is a real gift, but thanks for trying."

OF COURSE YOU WOULDN'T. If your kid did that for you, you would fall to the ground and drown in a puddle of happy tears and have to be revived by the emergency medical technicians who came on the ambulance and the first thing you'd say when you came back to your senses would be, "Look. Look at this beautiful, lovely Penguin paperback my darling child bought for me." You'd probably sleep with that book under your pillow for the next million nights, and long after it had crumbled into cheapo paperback dust, you'd remember that sacrifice, that unselfishness, that desire to do something to make you happy, that honor given to you that was so much more than a trivial gift that cost $9.98 at Wal-Mart.

And do you think God, the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent being who told us to call him "Daddy," do you really think that he thinks anything less than that?

Try it and see.

A great article titled "What Can I Do Before Lent Begins" can be found here.

Catholic has an entire area of their website devoted to the hows and whys of Lent; you can check that excellent resource out by clicking here

NUNDAY: Bump, set, spike!

Because even though you are called to a religious vocation, you can't spend all your time praying.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Surprisingly delicious

I was on the road with Aisling the other day, driving her to this or that venue to do this or that activity -- after a while they all blend in together -- and I needed something to eat. A McDonald's was handy, but McDonald's breakfast is so yucky. All the heavy biscuits, greasy sausage and probably-from-powder eggs do not a good breakfast make, in my opinion. And I should know a good breakfast because, well....I'm a gourmand. Which is a polite way of saying that I eat a whole lot of really good food.

Anyway. I happened to remember that McDonald's has a new oatmeal with chopped apples and raisins in it (mostly because of the enormous yellow sign that read "TRY OUR NEW OATMEAL WITH APPLES AND RAISANS [sic]!" and I figured even McDonald's couldn't fubar instant oatmeal that much, so I buzzed through the drive-thru and ordered the oatmeal and a cute little chubby container of milk and it was actually very good.

Somewhere out in that field....

...there are a bunch of elves schlepping baking sheets, rolling pins, cookie cutters and mixing bowls and irritably asking Ernie, "SO NOW WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO, MR. KNOWLEDGE?!?"

(Road crews were cutting down this tree on a country road on the way to our church in Hamilton county. The girls and I couldn't help but speculate.)