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What’s for supper? Vol. 21: Veg Bad!

Last week, I talked about how much food we actually cook. The same reader also asked about how much our kids help with the cooking. They do a lot more when school is out, of course, but they’re usually involved somehow, because it’s good for them and because I really need help.

For reference, my kids are 17, 16, 15, 13, 11, 10, 8, 6, 4, and 11 months. All but the youngest two are at school until around 3 at the earliest, and I usually don’t get home until 4 or 5 or 6. I generally make dinner in segments, cooking or prepping in the morning, heating it up again in the afternoon, and then adding something right before dinner. My husband usually gets home several hours later, and either reheats dinner or has something frozen.

This week, I had so much green stuff in the house, but I got spooked by listeria, and threw it all away. The action of tossing perfectly good salad into the trash triggered some kind of psychological aversion to vegetables in general, and I was unable to serve any this week, because I love my family.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.  Here’s what we had this week, besides veg:

*

SATURDAY
HAM AND CHEESE ON BAGELS; CHEESE PUFFS; COOKIES

On Saturday, Damien and I went to a music festival our 16-year-old daughter was singing in, so we left the others at home to fend for themselves with an easy meal. I ate before we left, because we’d be gone during dinner; and then when we got back, I ate again, because we had been gone during dinner. This is what we call “mindfulness.”

*

SUNDAY
PULLED PORK, RED ONIONS, POTATO PUFFS; ICE CREAM

I had tons of writing to do, so I threw some hazy directions to my 17-year-old daughter about how to start the pork, and then went into my fortress of solitude. (Directions: Put it in a shallow pan, fat side up; pour a can of beer over it, sprinkle it generously with salt and pepper, cover loosely with foil, put in 250 oven for several hours.) My husband checked on it throughout the day. When I emerged, I shredded the pork while my husband sliced onions and put the potato puffs in the oven.

I had mine all heaped up in a fabulous mound of yumminess.

[img attachment=”89678″ align=”aligncenter” size=”full” alt=”pulled pork on potato puffs” /]

The kids helped by grumbling that there were no rolls.

*

MONDAY
PENNE with MEAT SAUCE

The older kids were home from school for some bogus reason, so in the morning, I had them fry up 1.5 lbs of Italian sausage and 1 lb of ground turkey meat with the leftover onions from the pulled pork. When I got home in the afternoon, I had another kid start water boiling (we use a giant stock pot, since we never cook less than 3 lbs. of pasta). Then I cooked the penne and mixed it with the cooked meat and jarred sauce in a casserole dish and heated the whole thing up.

*

TUESDAY
HOT DOGS, BAKED BEANS

The older kids cooked this meal while I was driving back and forth and back and forth like an idiot. My husband had frozen chicken wings or something.

*

WEDNESDAY
CHICKEN CHIPOTLE (but not that kind of Chipotle) CHILE on BAKED POTATOES

This is a new recipe for us, and my husband and I were the only ones who liked it! Such a disappointment. I used Pioneer Woman’s Chicken Chipotle Chile recipe and served it with baked potatoes, sour cream, salsa, shredded cheese, and cilantro. The kids mostly ate baked potatoes with sour cream, the ungrateful crumbs.

I mean, look at this!

[img attachment=”89680″ align=”aligncenter” size=”full” alt=”chicken chili on baked potato” /]

I couldn’t even get them to help much, once they heard it was chili. I finally hounded my 11-year-old son into stabbing the potatoes with a fork so they wouldn’t explode it in the oven, and it turns out he paid his 6-year-old sister a nickel to do it for him.

Anyway, the recipe was pretty good. It was hot, with the chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, but not face-hurtingly spicy. I wasn’t bowled over by the taste of chili on potatoes, but my husband liked it.

*

THURSDAY
ONION SOUP with croutons and parmesan; QUESADILLAS; AVOCADOS

Fannie Farmer onion soup, except I use beef broth instead of water. Benny helped with the bouillon cubes, as ever:

[img attachment=”89686″ align=”aligncenter” size=”full” alt=”benny bouillon” /]

and she also spread melted butter on the ciabetta bread (on clearance at Walmart, which was weird because they don’t have a bakery at this Walmart. But they were on sale!) for croutons:

[img attachment=”89687″ align=”aligncenter” size=”full” alt=”benny croutons” /]

Her comment: “I LIKE THIS GAME!”

I cooked the onions and croutons in the morning, then finished the soup in the evening. I got the 17-year-old to cut them up for me while I got in a quick fight on Facebook.

[img attachment=”89688″ align=”aligncenter” size=”full” alt=”lena avocados 2″ /]

I don’t count avocados as veg, because they taste good.

The soup actually went over pretty well, although some of the kids just had croutons and quesadillas. The rule is that I will make one large quesadilla for each kid, and anyone who wants more can cook it himself. Also, if you make yourself a second quesadilla, you have to agree to make a second for any little kid who wants one.

You’d think onion soup, quesadillas, and avocados would be kind of a weird combination, but it was actually great, very balanced and satisfying.

[img attachment=”89689″ align=”aligncenter” size=”full” alt=”quesadillas and onion soup” /]

My husband got home late, and had leftover chili, with quesadillas which he made himself.

[img attachment=”89690″ align=”aligncenter” size=”full” alt=”quesadillas and chili” /]

My gosh, it’s like we’re living at Applebee’s or something. Maybe even a TGIFridays! There are some rusty bicycles outside. I bet I could hang them on the wall, serve watery beer, and make a milllllllllllion dollars.

*

FRIDAY
MAC and CHEESE; CARROTS and HUMMUS

I made this this morning, yay me. Just need to make some buttered breadcrumbs for the topping. I got help from Corrie, who cleaned off the whisk for me.

[img attachment=”89691″ align=”aligncenter” size=”full” alt=”corrie whisk” /]

My mac and cheese recipe is from Fannie Farmer, except I double the cheese. I use milk, no cream.

I intend to spend the rest of the day working on one of my own favorite recipes:

[img attachment=”89692″ align=”aligncenter” size=”full” alt=”tearwater tea” /]

Bah.

Wella-hella-hella, what’s for dinner at your house?

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Why did we really quit home school . . . and how’s it going? Part I

Earlier this week, I wrote about getting rid of the last of our home school books, which we hadn’t touched for over six years. I talked a bit about why I kept them around so long, and why it was so hard to make the decision not to home school anymore — especially considering that the photo above was taken on the first day of school, while I was teaching in the next room.

The feral kid is fine, by the way. Wears pants and everything.

Two readers asked for a follow-up of Tuesday’s post:

I was wondering if you could say a few more words about how sending your kids to school is helping your family.  What are the benefits that those of us on the homeschool side are missing?  I have always wondered what it would be like to send the kids to school.  How has your family benefited from this choice?

and

I would be really interested to hear your specifics: what were your fears and why they weren’t rational, why didn’t you feel that the “blessings” that are supposed to accompany homeschooling were being realized, how traditional school has benefited your kids/parenting, and how did you discern the difference between frustrations that indicate homeschooling is the objectively wrong choice for your family and frustrations that are simply tempting you to give up something worth it but hard. That last one is, I think, the crux of people’s conundrums.

First, I want to be clear that I’m talking about my and our experience. I don’t have any grand theories about education in general, and I know there are as many different ways to do it as there are people, and then some. I write about our transition mainly to help other people sort through their experiences. I never encourage people to quit home schooling! For many people, home schooling is the best choice (and for many others, it’s the least bad choice). I only encourage people, especially unhappy parents, to realize that change is not necessarily the same as failure.

But you’re busy, so I’ll condense my thoughts into a quick pull quote:

I think that all home schoolers are arrogant, repressed weirdos, and I am gleeful about turning my children over to the state so they can catch atheist HPV from Dungeons and Dragons. And I say this because I’m bitter and feel guilty.  Now leave me alone so I can give my kids their Adderall-n-bits, which I serve them with a side dish of not learning cursive.

 

Tee hee. I must have my leetle joke. Well, this post is turning out way, way longer than I expected, so I’m breaking it into two parts. Next time, I’ll talk more about the specific benefits and drawbacks of traditional classroom schooling. 
.
This time, I’ll answer the other questions my readers asked.
 .
What were my fears, and were they rational?
 .
I was afraid that they just plain wouldn’t learn anything, at all. Not rational. In fact, they are getting a far, far better education than I did, and a more well-rounded one.
 .
I was afraid that the schools would be forcing all kinds of loathsome cultural agendas down our kids’ throats. In fact, most of the teachers are just trying to get kids interested in learning. They don’t get paid enough to be in it just to pervert anyone. They just want to teach, and they’re passionate about their subjects. We don’t agree with them about every last thing, but they respect our authority, and we really appreciate their devotion.
 .
I was super afraid of picking up germs. For us, not rational. Other than a few bouts of head lice (which is no fun, but not the end of the world), we aren’t any sicker or healthier than we used to be when we were home schooling; and no, my kids are not great about washing their hands before eating.
 .

I was afraid we would be scorned and rejected because we’re a big, weird, Catholic family and we dress kind of funny and our van is dirty. This didn’t happen (or maybe I just don’t know about it! Either way, no worries). Well, the high school kids think our van is creepy, because they’ve been told that vans are creepy, but oh well. The high school kids do have to put up with some trash talk about religious people, but they can take it. Not a bad thing to get used to dealing with.  In our charter school, which goes up to grade 8, there is nothing of the kind. We feel right at home, we have guests over, the kids have friends, the other moms talk to me, etc.
.

And I’ve learned that lots of people, even those who look like they’ve really got their act together, feel like they don’t fit in, so I try to work harder to be welcoming, rather than being defensive against people who I’m afraid won’t welcome us.

 .
I was obscurely afraid that someone would report us to someone for something. I had very deeply ingrained fears of child protective services prying into our family life and taking my kids away because we pray the rosary or have frayed shoelaces (even though, in our state, CPS is actually under fire for being too lax, and for not prying enough into the lives of children in danger). Not a rational fear. I’ve heard horror stories about overzealous government agencies, and some of them are surely true, but many turned out to be false or incomplete. We aren’t cavalier — I have to watch what I say in public, because there are busybodies who can’t take a joke — but I’ve learned to take scary stories with a grain of salt, and also not to submerge myself in paranoia by listening to talk radio and reading websites devoted to alarmism.
 .

Why weren’t the blessings of homeschool being realized?

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All the reasons. Maybe it would have worked if we had had some spending money; maybe it would have worked if we had had an active, thriving, supportive home schooling community; maybe it would have worked if I hadn’t been pregnant and struggling with debilitating anxiety; maybe it would have worked if we had had no other choice. Maybe it would have worked if I had been a Chinese jet pilot. I just don’t know. But I could see that things wouldn’t improve without drastic changes, and drastic changes didn’t seem possible.
 .
Some of these blessings were being realized, but not often enough to offset the bad stuff.
 .
And, as it turned out, some of them were achievable without home schooling! We still spend lots of time together, play, work, read, sing, dance, pray, and goof around together. We’re still us. We still value what we value, we still influence our kids enormously, and we still call the shots.
 .
How did I discern the difference between the frustration of “this is hard but worthwhile” and the frustration of “this is just not working”? 
 .

I knew that I couldn’t do everything, and that home schooling meant that other things would be sacrificed. But at a certain point, everything was being sacrificed, and nothing was being done well. The kids weren’t learning as much as I wanted them to, they weren’t having good extra-curricular experiences, the house was a wreck, dinner was out of control, we were broke all the time, and I was in an agony of anxiety at all times, and would have emotional breakdowns regularly. It wasn’t just that some things were getting the short end of the stick — it was that there was no long end.This being the case, I started asking some hard questions about why we were still doing it, if the benefits were so few and far between. I realized that it came down to pride, guilt, and fear: those were my main motivators.
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Pride: I wanted to be That Amazing Home Schooling Family, rather than That Family With Happy, Stable, Educated Kids. That’s-a no good.

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Guilt: My sister once said that someone gave them a couple of pretty white couches. She immediately covered them with slipcovers, to keep them from getting dirty. Some time later, she realized that the slipcovers had to stay on, or else everyone would see how dirty her couches were. She had no idea when the transition happened, but there it was. I was home schooling, in part, because somewhere along the line I had transitioned from protecting my kids from the outside world, to hiding my kids from the outside world. And as it turns out, I had some things to regret. There were some ways that I hadn’t done well by my kids, it hurt for other people to see this. But it had to happen, if I wanted things to change.
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Fear: Well, I think I’ve covered this one. I also had a lot of fears about the kids getting shot, getting kidnapped, etc., if they were out of my sight, and I really had to be weaned off this. We are still careful about safety, of course, but I no longer feel like it’s inherently dangerous for my kids to be away from me.

 .
***
Phew, I guess that’s enough for one day! Next time (probably next week), I’ll get into some specifics about how traditional schooling has been good for our kids and for our family, and I’ll also discuss some of the drawbacks and how we deal with them.
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Love in the time of Zika

This is how it always is: we see suffering, and we want to solve it with death. It’s a call-and-response, and here’s the worst of it: the far right does it just as much as the far left. Radical left-wingers think we can improve the world by cleansing the world of defective babies; radical right-wingers think we can improve the world by turning our heads while the third world quietly dies in misery.

Read the rest at the Register.

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Old movie review: HARD TIMES is Charles Bronson at his best

Looking for an understated, beautiful, well-crafted movie with plenty of punching, but not too much punching?  Hard Times (1975) with Charles Bronson and James Coburn hits the spot.

There’s not much plot. A quiet drifter named Chaney (Bronson, obviously) comes into town, and quickly makes his name as a formidable street fighter. He begins and ends an uncomfortable relationship with a Lucy, large-eyed, lonely, woman (Jill Ireland), and has a falling-out with his reckless manager, Speed (Coburn). He agrees to a final, high-stakes fight, and then moves along.

I couldn’t take my eyes of Charles Bronson. The guy looks like an actor; but in his other movies, you sometimes have to exercise patience when he opens his mouth. Not in so Hard Times. This role was made for him. As a lady person, I’m not especially interested in fighting, so I was watching carefully to see how Bronson moved, and it was incredibly compelling, really beautiful and evocative. Without saying a word (and usually without changing the placid, patient expression on his Bronsonface), he told you everything about his attitude toward other people — those whose butt he’s kicking, and anyone else he has to deal with, too. No wasted emotion, no wasted action.

If you, like me, are feeling a little itchy over our current choices of the shiny-faced hero boys and cerebral, neurotic, tormented leading men, I present Charles Frickin’ Bronson:

Oh, man.

My husband thinks maybe (minor spoiler) Chaney and Lucy are actually husband and wife, and the complicated situation with her husband in jail, and her disgust with his failure to commit — this is their already-established situation. Maybe! Or maybe they know each other in some other way; or maybe they are just the kind of people who are always in these situations, and they know each other just because they’ve fought this fight before.

The soundtrack is contemporaneous with the Depression-era setting, which I enjoyed (and the setting is meticulously recreated and very persuasive); but I bet if someone re-scored the soundtrack with edgy Indy songs, it would blow everyone’s minds.

It’s only 93 minutes, and doesn’t waste a speck of your time. I’ll be on the lookout for other films by the director, Walter Hill.  Hill says:

My heroes usually have a very talkative foil opposite them or reluctantly alongside them, such as Bruce Dern in The Driver, or Eddie Murphy in 48 Hrs, or James Coburn in Hard Times. I like the kind of dialogue between people who have a mutual goal but very disparate appetites and needs, so that there’s always a kind of friction that runs throughout the film. They don’t like each other very much, and hopefully the movie supplies a reason for them to achieve a grudging kind of respect for each other.

Worked for me.  This movie is available for streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

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Today, I Quit Home School (six years ago)

See what’s out by the garbage cans? It’s a lovely collection of books that would be useful for any serious home schooler. Latin, grammar, science, and Saxon math with answer guide! This is primo stuff. Or it would be, if these books weren’t thoroughly waterlogged, crushed, frozen, smeared with driveway grit and rock salt, and — oh, naturally — peed on by the dog.

Here’s how it happened. We home schooled for about six years, starting about twelve years ago. It was the right thing to do at the time, and I’m glad we did it, even though it was awfully hard. We have sweet memories from that time. We’re still our kids’ primary educators, and we’ve retained a lot of the nice habits from when we were their school teachers.

Once we decided to enroll some kids in traditional classroom schools, we still home schooled a few of them. I kept all our materials, for all the grades, because I figured we’d still be using them; and besides, maybe we’d be yanking everyone out of the classroom and bringing them home again! In fact, probably! Better hold onto it all.

Then, once we enrolled all the kids in various schools, I gathered up all the home schooling stuff and stored it together on one shelf. Naturally, we’d be supplementing their education with whatever the schools couldn’t manage to do, and anyway, our kids had learned to love knowledge so much, we’d be dipping into these books just for fun, surely. We still need them.

Then, one year, I gave the house a deep cleaning, and I had to admit that we hadn’t touched some of this stuff in years. So I threw out the most raggedy materials, passed some on to other moms, and kept only the things that seemed really useful — if not to us, then to someone, surely. Eventually. Some of it had been really hard to find, especially on our limited budget. I wasn’t going to just let them pass out of our hands, just like that.

A few years after that, I heard myself tell the kids they could find something — scissors, paperclips, I forget — on the “home school shelf.” And I says to myself, I says, “Crazy person, that is not a home school shelf. That is an Office Supplies and Stubborn Delusion Shelf. You are not a home schooler. You are not a home schooler.

These books were just taking up space, in my house and in my heart. No matter how happy I was with our current schools, those books were crouching there like doomsday preppers, hoarding their knowledge, sheltering their little fantasy paradise of gathering in educational bliss around the hearth (which we don’t have), whispering to me that the life we were living now was some kind of temporary, alternate life, that it was something we were doing in the meantime, until we could get back to  . . . something. Meanwhile, in Real Education Land, poeta puellae magnas rosas dat . . . o, poeta . . .

Never mind that, in the public school system, my kids were learning Mandarin. We were totally going to get back to Latin, someday. Spontaneously, in our spare time, because we’re home schoolers at heart, and home schoolers love learning.

It was like trying to watch a movie, but just off to the side, on a little inset of the screen, was a second movie, which was paused in the middle of the action. I could ignore it most of the time, but it still was there, and I couldn’t forget it. Every time I caught a glimpse of it, I felt like I was missing out on something, and I couldn’t focus on the story we were actually in the middle of.

So, about a month ago, I went on one more cleaning rampage. I grabbed a box from Aldi and crammed in as many books as I could fit. Whatever didn’t fit got tossed. Whew.

Then, I drove around town with those books in the van for maybe six months, meaning and meaning to drop them off at the Salvation Army or the thrift shop or the book bin at the supermarket. But I never got around to it.

Then my husband needed to bring some stuff to the dump, so he took the seats out of the van, and also some stray bags and boxes, including this box of books. I saw it, and meant to bring it inside.

But I didn’t.

And didn’t.

And didn’t. And then it snowed, and froze, and rain, and snowed again.

And then the dog peed on it.

Well, I may be crazy, but I’m not that crazy. I threw the pee books out. We’re done homeschooling, for real, six years after the day when we officially had no more kids in home school.

I’m telling you this because sending our kids to a classroom was the scariest thing I have ever done — but it didn’t have to be. Part of the reason it was so hard to get rid of those books was because I had been thoroughly persuaded that home school was always and everywhere and for everyone the best possible choice, and that all other choices were the choices of losers, lazies, compromisers, sell-outs, and the tragically mediocre. I surrounded myself with people who told me that happiness, peace, virtue, and academic brilliance were the realm of home school (although a few public schoolers might accidentally catch a crumb), and that misery, drudgery, degeneracy and folly were the fate of public school kids (although a few might accidentally turn out okay).

I wish I had spent more time reading about all the good things that home school had to offer, and about how it’s normal to struggle sometimes when you’re doing something important; but that it’s also important to look sincerely at your family, and ask yourself what your real reason is for doing what you do. Is it because you’re afraid? Are you sure you know what you’re afraid of? Who are you listening to, actually, and why? Is there anyone you’re avoiding listening to? Why? What part of your psyche does it feed, to keep on the way you’re keeping on?

These are questions I never asked myself. And it was a little to easy to find other home schoolers like me, who could only make it through each day by telling themselves believe that the alternative to home schooling was death.

No wonder I didn’t want to throw away those Saxon answer books. Part of me thought we would die without them.

Well, my friends, we do not home school, and we did not die. We’ve used other schools for as many years as we home schooled. There are good things and bad things about our local public and charter schools, just like there were good things and bad things about our home school.

Learning how to think more clearly about schooling choices has made it easier for me to think more clearly about all sorts of things. Fear is never an honest motivator, and “maybe someday” is not a good theme for decorating your house. Think of all the room you’ll regain, if you can get yourself to clear that space.

I try to keep things in our house that are useful to our family now, and pass along things that would be useful if we were different people. We constantly reassess how well our kids are doing, and ask around for advice when we think we could be doing better. We try to spend time with all different kinds of people. We accept the fact that every choice we make in life has drawbacks. We are still our kids’ primary educators.

And now . . . I have a little extra space on my shelf.

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Featured Catholic Artist: Photographer Matthew Lomanno

Usually, in my interviews with Catholic artists, I let the artist and his work speak for themselves; but since one of Matthew Lomanno’s photo essays documents my own family, I can’t resist pointing out that his work is gorgeously textured and evocative, and it presents the good, bad, and weird of life with depth, humor, and pathos.

[img attachment=”88905″ size=”full” alt=”lomanno 1″ align=”aligncenter” linkto=”custom”]

Matthew Lomanno, 38, hasn’t always been a photographer. He and his wife, Jessica, met while singing in the choir in high school. They married soon after college graduation, and headed to Texas where Matthew started a master’s degree in philosophy and Jessica joined Teach for America, with a short, intensive training in Houston (where the dorm’s “honeymoon suite” included a romantic set of bunk beds).

The couple lived in Houston for five years before heading back to New England, all the while teaching, writing, and continuing their own studies while growing their family. Lomanno was a Liberal Studies in the Great Books major and Ancient Greek minor at Saint Anselm College, and is an ABD Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. He also continues to pursue an interest in the philosophy of art.

In his 20’s, he used some birthday money to buy a simple camera, photographing cooperative subjects like his sleeping baby and a vase of flowers. He stayed up late experimenting with the camera, working part time jobs, gradually upgrading his equipment and improving his editing skills. He bolstered his income as a youth sports  photographer, and did some work shadowing professional photographers. But, he says, he “kind of backed into” the idea of working full time as a photographer, and was still finding his feet when was first hired by Parable, the magazine of the Diocese of NH.

[img attachment=”88941″ size=”full” alt=”lomanno 26″ align=”aligncenter” linkto=”custom”]

In 2011, he went with students from St. Anselm College to work with disabled orphans in Jamaica. (The other faculty member revealed, when they got there, that she was pregnant. Lomanno says he got some photos of her sleeping in the shade.) Blessed Assurance was the first black and white photo essay he had published.

[img attachment=”88907″ size=”full” alt=”lomanno 3″ align=”aligncenter” linkto=”custom”]

Here is our interview from October of 2015:

 

You use mainly film cameras, not digital. What’s the difference?

With digital, there is no frame limit, only what my memory card can hold; whereas with film, I have 36 frames per roll, and there’s a process to change rolls. Each frame costs money. Being a born and bred New Englander, there’s a certain amount of thrift.

[img attachment=”88908″ size=”full” alt=”lomanno 5″ align=”aligncenter” linkto=”custom”]

So why use film?

It provides an artistic limit. In the digital world, there are endless possibilities of what we can do with an image. Choose after-the-fact color, manipulate any part we want. Film — specifically black-and-white film — limits me in a particular way. I have to be really committed to making this image. It allows me to focus my mind on what’s happening with the image, and composing the frame.

[img attachment=”88909″ size=”full” alt=”lomanno 6″ align=”aligncenter” linkto=”custom”]

I use fixed focal lengths; there is no zoom. I might have different lenses on me, but I don’t have that infinite range of zooming possibilities. I have to make a frame with this lens and this film. By giving myself these limits, I can accomplish a lot more.

Tell me more about what it means to use black-and-white film.

The aesthetics are completely unique. It focuses the eye on the form of things. You see what’s going on in a special way, without distractions, that you don’t see with color. Aesthetically, you’re only viewing it in terms of grey tonality. You see the variance of highlights and arcs and midrange tones much more clearly, and it really allows you to see how the picture is composed.

[img attachment=”88910″ size=”full” alt=”lomanno 7″ align=”aligncenter” linkto=”custom”]

It’s so outside our everyday experience of the world.

Is that what you’re trying to do as an artist:  trying to take us out of our everyday experience of the world?

Yes and no. One of my favorite photographers says that any time you take a picture of a thing, the resulting photograph is a lie. He’s trying to get away from the idea that there’s some kind of [objective] truth element involved in the artistic act.

The object [that you’re capturing] is two-dimensional: this is what it looks like to the camera. The photographic process, the documentary process, is figuring out how to frame the content in such a way as to make a good picture. I have to make this photograph more interesting than the reality.

[img attachment=”88911″ size=”full” alt=”lomanno 8″ align=”aligncenter” linkto=”custom”]

How do you do that?

Say I’m at the March for Life, surrounded by thousands and thousands of like-minded people. If I had a digital camera, I could hold down the shutter and walk around, and that should show what it looked like it some fashion – but it wouldn’t be intentionally made.

I wanted to show the interactions.

[img attachment=”88912″ size=”full” alt=”lomanno 9″ align=”aligncenter” linkto=”custom”]

There were maybe a dozen pro-abortion protestors. It’s fun for me, as a Catholic, to show the kind of signs that the pro-abortionists had, versus the anti-abortionists. One group was rather hateful, the other group is not. That’s not the narrative you’ll hear from other sources. It’s always editorialized.

 

So do you have a particular responsibility to show the world in a certain way, as a Catholic photographer, or as a Catholic artist in general? Do you have a duty to editorialize, or can you even help it?

Any fine artist should have a commitment primarily to form, to making beautiful objects. How do I do this, as a Catholic with a somewhat informed intellectual and cultural training?

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Where do I train my camera? Where do I put that work?

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The documentary world, going all around the world, following famines, wars . . . I can’t do that work right now. What am I going to do now? What’s in New Hampshire?

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It took me a long time to figure out that I don’t have to do just the bad stuff that’s happening.  If you look at my work broadly, the Jamaica story or the North Country Priest or the March for Life, these kinds of projects have all been about good things that are happening, good people doing good work. That’s how I’ve allowed my intellectual and faith-filled life to inform my work in terms of content, in terms of where I’m going to train my camera.

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Once I figured that out, I could generate a lot of ideas, like, “How do I photograph the pro-life movement in a clear way?” So much of it is office work, working in the legal system. So I went to the March for Life, to get a glimpse of the energy and excitement, at least for that day.

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There was a sign [at the March for Life that] I didn’t photograph. It was off to the side, but it was huge: “If this is the only thing that you do as a pro-lifer, there’s something wrong.” Some people will think that’s harsh, but I understand that point.

In the hospital documentary, the question I was asking myself was, “What makes this hospital Catholic? How am I going to photograph that?  If it’s not more than the crucifix on the wall, then it’s nothing.”

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In your hospital series, almost all the shots have people making eye contact with other people (in or out of the shot). Was that deliberate – a way to convey what kind of hospital it was? The sort of “pro-life”ness, beyond the crucifix on the wall?

I’m primarily committed, as an artist, to creating beautiful photographs. At the hospital, what I could photograph was basically either medical procedures, or human contact, human interactions.

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You can’t get away from human interaction in the hospital. It was one of the main things that was happening.

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You include captions and a lot of text with your documentaries. How do you decide whether to say things in words, or say things with the images?

It’s a hard balance. You just have to be succinct.  There’s always more to say, and you’re always going to taint the images. You want to amplify the content, not change the form. In Humans of New York, the most popular photo project ever, the success is due not to the photography! The photos are good, not great. He has five or six different ways he photographs a person, and the light is always nice and even. But he’s able to get people to say things to him, as a stranger, that we wouldn’t say to our closest friends. It’s amazing.

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What about when you can’t add a caption, like with a portrait or a headshot? How do you control what you are conveying with an image of someone you don’t really know?

The big thing is being open and receptive to whatever they’re going to give me. When I look through the viewfinder, I see them in a way they may not see themselves.

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I try not to direct people too much, just let them give me what they’re going to give me. I don’t introduce a level of artifice into the situation. With your kids, for instance, my task was more making an interesting frame and composition.

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You have to be careful about the question of knowledge in a portrait. It’s only the people we already know, of whom we can say, “This is a true likeness.” If I present photos of your children to someone with different expectations, they might think they’re miserable kids, because none of them are smiling. People bring a lot of their own knowledge when they’re seeing a portrait.

One of the tests, for me, regarding any work of art, is, “Can I come back to it?” Does it still hold my attention?

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You’ve done a lot of teaching. What kind of ideas did current art students bring to the classroom?

I taught two courses at the NH Institute of Art: Ethics, and The Philosophy of Art. It was a very different culture from what I was used to, not teaching liberally trained students, but art students.

I’ve been trying to get them to think about the art they were pursuing, about what makes it, or any fine art, good or bad. I’ve been trying to get them to think about the dichotomy between form and content.

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A lot of our [current] understanding of fine art is reduced to content. It’s ubiquitous.

When you get them to talk about a specific work, they talk about form, but when they talk about art in general, they talk about content. Artists are supposed to find some insight that no one else has seen before, but they’re not taught to put things together well – they’re just supposed to express their ideas or emotions. That idea has been around since the time of Plato, but I don’t think it’s Aristotle’s view.

What is Aristotle’s view about art?

Plato and Aristotle didn’t write a treatise on art, but if you read closely, especially in Aristotle, they both use art as an exemplum for other ideas. For instance, when Aristotle wants to talk about what nature is in the Physics, he talks about an object in art. There are little bits and pieces like that; you have to kind of hunt.

My goal, through academic writing, is to produce some more popular style piece about art in various forms. In the Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle talks about two different kinds of human activity: moral activity, and artistic activity. Moral is doing; artistic is making.

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Some artistic practices we do every day are cooking dinner, or stacking wood. Anything that’s not a moral activity is an artistic activity.

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I have the benefit now, which I didn’t have then [before I became a photographer], of intentionally practicing an art and seeing it from the inside.

What’s next for you?

Last Spring, I didn’t teach for the first time in eleven years. I don’t know what the future holds. I didn’t plan on being 38 and being a full-time photographer, so I’m not making any predictions about the future. God’s grace has been good enough, so I’m going to ride that wave.

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***

Matthew Lomanno and his wife Jessica, who writes and edits for Texas Right to Life, live with their four photogenic children, aged 6 to 11, in New Hampshire. He founded and operates the Amoskeag Studio for visual and performing arts in 2013. Lomanno’s website is matthewlomanno.com, where you can see many of his photos, including wedding photos, documentaries, and commercial photography. He also frequently posts on Instagram and Twitter @mplomanno and Facebook on Matthew Lomanno Photography. His latest photo essay, “Healing Body and Spirit,” is now on display at St. Joseph Hospital in Nashua, NH.

All photos used with kind permission of the artist.

 

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What’s for supper? Vol. 20: How much food do 12 people actually eat?

Last week, someone asked me about leftovers, and help from kids:

Simcha, what I would really like to know, besides the menus, is things like, who did what for a given meal? How does the youngest contribute, and how much do the older kids do? How many of what did you have to make? Do you deliberately cultivate leftovers? If so, what do you do with them? I don’t think that I have seen you serve leftovers for dinner once, but I can’t believe everything comes out even every time.

It’s true, I almost never serve leftovers for dinner. We either make exactly as much as we’ll eat (like with hamburgers), or else I make plenty and we eat the leftovers for lunch. I end up throwing away some food at the end of every week, or else feeding it to the dog, and I just don’t sweat it. I try not to waste money, but I often make too much of cheaper foods. It’s not something I can worry about right now.

I’ll talk more about kids helping next week. This week, I’ll note how much food I served.

SATURDAY
CHICKEN BURGERS, CHEESE ADEQUACIES, VEG and DIP

I heated up 27 chicken patties. We ate about 20, and the rest made their way into lunches. I think there’s one stray in the fridge now.
We ate 2 medium bags of cheetos, and I served a small bag (18 oz?) of “baby” carrots, two heads of broccoli, and three sweet peppers, and a small tub of dip. There were a handful of leftover veggies, which I nibbled on throughout the week.

[img attachment=”88660″ align=”aligncenter” size=”medium” alt=”food blog chicken burgers” /]

I like buying store-brand versions of foods, especially the ones the gas station sells: ShurFine brand. I guess they meant it like, “Yessiree, it surely is fine food!” but it comes across as, “Sure, fine, whatever, put this in your face.” The ShurFine cheetos mascot is a weasel with band aids on his elbows from a rollerblading mishap, and he’s feebly hollering, “They’rrrrrrrrre . . . adequate.”

SUNDAY
PU PU PLATTER FOR 12!
And a pot of rice (I used 5 cups of raw rice); Chocolate pudding with whipped cream

We usually order this meal on Christmas day from the excellent restaurant that is 3/10 of a mile down the road from us, but this year, we were visiting family on Christmas. So we had the Chinese food on Sunday, to take the sting out of the day we de-Christmasified the house. Back in the box, Tom Servo tree topper:

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And we discovered that there were two decorative gourds still lurking behind the stable. Turns out they’re not as well-preserved as they look when you buy them in September:

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Anyway, it was an enormous amount of food: egg rolls, chicken fingers, batter fried shrimp, crab rangoon, barbecued chicken wings, that red pork stuff, and beef on a stick.  Chinese American meat, and tons of it:

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We ate the leftovers in the next day or two. For dessert, I made 5 boxes of instant pudding, and there were a few cups left over, which got eaten the next day by a ghost.

MONDAY
PASTA PUTTANESCA
3 lbs pasta, three jars of olives, one can of anchovies, two onions, 24 oz. of grape tomatoes, and I forget what else.

We had Monday off for Civil Rights Day (we like a day off in NH, but can’t quite bring ourselves to say “Martin Luther King, Jr.”), so I was able to cook an actual meal. We also went sledding. We survived exactly half an hour on Horse Hill before the frigid wind triumphed. Gorgeous day, though

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Gosh, I love New Hampshire. And we had an excuse to make another gallon of hot chocolate.

For dinner, I used Pioneer Woman’s recipe, which was supposed to take 16 minutes to prepare. It did not. This recipe involved anchovies, several kinds of olives, red onions, garlic, wine, and assorted other of my favorites. Fun to make:

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The final flavor was kind of harsh, though. Pretty, though!

[img attachment=”88654″ align=”aligncenter” size=”medium” alt=”food blog spaghetti puttanesca” /]

TUESDAY
TACO TUESDAY!
3.33lbs of meat, 2 envelopes of taco spice, 3 bags of tortilla chips, half a large jar of salsa, half a head of iceburg lettuce, six Roma tomatoes, and 16 oz. sour cream. I have no idea how many tortillas we ate. We have a rotating supply of 450 tortillas in the house. Every once in a while, I get mad and throw them all away, and then buy another 30 next week.

It’s a little embarrassing that it makes such a difference to be able to say that. I was thinking, “I guess we’ll have tacos today, bluhh. What day is it? Oh, Tuesday, bah bah bahhh. Wait. . . tacos . . . on a Tuesday . . . why, that means it’s TACO TUESDAY!!!!!” I didn’t actually do a Mexican Hat Dance, but almost. I guess I’m the ideal consumer. Good thing I don’t have any actual money to spend.

No picture from Tuesday, so here is one that just speaks for what really goes on here every day, one way or another:

[img attachment=”88661″ align=”aligncenter” size=”medium” alt=”food blog corrie spaghettios” /]

Speaking of money, I made the tacos with 2.33 lbs of ground beef and 1 pound of ground sausage, which I bought for . . . ten cents. Now, most people would decide not to buy ten-cent sausage, on the grounds that meat does not cost ten cents; but I am not most people. ¡Olé!

WEDNESDAY
EGGS; SAUSAGES; OVEN ROASTED POTATOES
50 frozen sausages, 30-40 eggs, maybe 8 lbs of potatoes and 2 large onions
There was probably 3 cups of leftover potatoes and sausages, which the baby and the dog ate for snacks.

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Yep, I put ketchup on my scrambled eggs. Because it tastes good, and you know it.

THURSDAY
PEPPERONI CHICKEN on SPINACH FETTUCCINE; SALAD
I bought about 4 lbs. of chicken, and it was just barely enough. Probably 65 slices of peperoni, maybe a pound of mozzarella cheese, and 2 24-oz jars of pasta sauce. Salad was one head of frisee lettuce, three small heads of Romaine, and half a package of baby spinach. We ate about half, and will eat the rest today.

For this dish, which was another 16-minute (ha) Pioneer Woman recipe, I bought a package of pasta nests, which were on sale. I don’t know how you’re supposed to cook them so they stay in nest form!

[img attachment=”88659″ align=”aligncenter” size=”medium” alt=”food blog pepperoni chicken” /]

I had to cook the chicken in the morning and then reheat it in the sauce at dinner time. It definitely would have been better if everything had been fresh and hot and prepared together, but it was still a tasty dish, and would make a yummy sandwich. Adding to the list.

FRIDAY
CHEESE PIZZA; SALAD

If the kitchen ever warms up enough to allow the dough to defrost, I’ll be making 4 XL pizzas today. I use four 18-oz balls of frozen dough, 1 24-oz jar of tomato sauce, and usually about 2.5 lbs of mozzarella cheese (plus a sprinkling of garlic powder, oregano, and Parmesan).

Was that helpful and/or interesting, to know the amounts of food I use? I can easily add that information every week if it’s something that people want to know.

What’s cooking at your house? And who has recipes for food that tastes normal but is not horribly fattening? My clothes all shrunk over Christmas, is why I’m asking.