The Catholic Weekly

The samurai martyr and the sex abuse scandal

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Where do we go when we as a church are caught persecuting ourselves? How do we respond when the aggressor lives within our walls, and when the criticisms of our church are accurate and true? When the enemy of the faith is a hostile outsider, our course seems clear: we fight back, to defend ourselves and our church. But this is a different matter.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly of Australia.

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Image: detail from woodblock by Hokusai(?)

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World’s okayest mom’s list of tolerable kid’s TV shows

Last week, we chatted about some children’s TV shows that are so good, I’ll sit and watch them myself, rather than just let a glowing screen raise my kids while I shoot up in the kitchen, or whatever it is I do all day.

Here, now, is the B list: shows my kids enjoy, which don’t make my gnash my teeth with guilt. But I won’t sit and watch it, not with both eyeballs. So my reviews may be a slightly on the useless side, since I haven’t exactly seen them.

As with the A-listers, these are all either on Netflix Streaming or Amazon Prime Streaming.

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Masha’s Tales (Netflix)
This seems to be a Russian show dubbed into English, and it’s a spinoff from a show called Masha and the Bear, which we haven’t seen.

I think it’s a sort of fractured fairy tales thing, with a nutty little girl narrating the action. I like it because the narrator is an actual little girl, who occasionally endearingly stumbles over words, but who is very naturally dramatic and witty in her delivery. The music is often taken from great classical composers, too, so that’s excellent. It’s somewhat frenetic, but not too loud or obnoxious.

Wonder Pets (Amazon)
Popular for a reason. Whoever came up with the concept (I heard it was opera lovers) really was brilliant. Three kid animals who go on adventures all over the world in their homemade Flyboat to save baby animals in danger, and they sing lots of songs (and recitatives) along the way. This show is really quite dear to me, even if I won’t quite sit and watch it myself. One time, one of the kids asked the toddler what a sheep says, and she said, “Oh sheepy-hoo?”

They’ve locked down all the clips online, so this video is a clip of the game, not the actual show. Gives you the general idea:

It’s mildly witty and sweet, not screamy, not sassy, and the “photo-puppetry” animation, which imitates a child’s scissor-and-paste job, does not induce seizures. Lots of songs I don’t mind having in my head. I also enjoy the real kid voices, not supertrained America’s Kidz Got Singing-type voices.

Octonauts (Netflix)
This one violates a bunch of my “standards,” such as they are. I guess there are some animals and maybe some vegetables who go down in a submarine and have adventures, and also learn about the ocean? I am not sure. The animation is a big nothingburger, and I none of the characters seems especially interesting. I think they may learn a thing or two about the ocean.

However, for reasons I can’t explain, I LOVE the “Creature Report” song.

Creature report!!! I sing it to myself all the time. It’s just a good song!

Avatar: The Last Airbender (Amazon)

When a bunch of my kids requested handmade costumes of these characters for Halloween, I thought I was really gonna have to watch it, but I just fumbled through. It’s one of those shows that is just completely exhausting to me. First there is some teen drama and moping, and a few wisecracks and martial arts and sad parts, and then, in almost every episode, there is some version of a mystical volcano of light exploding and turning the mountain inside out, which triggers a lava of sound which causes the air to vibrate until it rains fire which makes everybody’s eyeballs turn into mirrors and unlocks the key to the mystery of the giant doors of ultimate power; and then, things start to get cuh-razy. Or so it seems to me. Here is a clip I chose at random:

All of my kids love this show (they are ages 18 to almost 2). I hear them laughing their heads off, and getting all somber together, gasping and shouting at the exciting parts. So, that’s why I let them watch it.

Martha Speaks (Netflix)

Pretty cute. It’s based on the books by Susan Meddaugh, which are funny and a little weird, and the cartoon seems to have preserved the spirit of the books pretty well. I like the theme music. I think it’s educational in some way, I guess for vocabulary or something.

I like how Martha is a smart dog who can talk and make jokes, but then Skits is just a regular old dumb dog.

Word Girl (Netflix)

The kids haven’t actually seen this show in a while, but I always tolerated it very well. It has some funny side characters, like Lady Redundant Woman and Sid the Evil Sandwich-Making Guy.

Someone put some effort into this one. It’s very PBS.

Barbie: Life In the Dreamhouse (Netflix)

I come pretty close to actually watching this show, which is genuinely entertaining. Barbie, Ken and their friends and frenemies go about their busy life, going on plastic camping trips, solving fashion and friendship problems, and throwing parties. The humor comes in because they are actual dolls, and they know it, so there’s no end of jokes about their articulated joints, their ability to make bake by flipping a stovetop over, Barbie’s agelessness and inexplicable number of careers, etc.

There are lots of references to other movies, and it’s very silly, but devoid of sexiness. My only objection to this show is that, being about Barbie and her friends, it is screeeeeeamy. Someone is always screaming or squealing or shrieking. It makes sense for the plot, but I can only deal with hearing a few episodes at a time.

I’m reluctantly including My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (Netflix) for that reason. They did actually bother to write it, and the messages of cooperation, flexibility, teamwork, and friendship are perfectly fine. Some of the plots are witty or bizarre, with funny cameos and unexpected subplots. Here’s one of the songs from one of my kids’ favorite episodes:

But the screeeeeeaming, squeeeeeeealing, and shrieeeeeeeeking. Yikes. This one gets limited play time.

Teen Titans (oops, it turns out this isn’t available for free streaming after all!)
This show is so dang stupid. I don’t know what the appeal is; but, like Avatar, my kids all love it and get along when they’re watching it (and occasionally ask for Halloween costumes based on it), so I don’t object.

It is a flashy, silly “band of superheroes” cartoon of some kind, and some of the characters have emotional problems. One is purple and sad, and one is goofy and green. The theme song gets stuck in my head for this one, too, but I’m less thrilled about that. Sometimes the theme song is in Japanese, I guess.

The Adventure of Tintin (Amazon)
If you like the Tintin books by Hergé — and, oh, we do — there is no reason on heaven or earth that you would dislike these cartoons,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZsK4UDoo4o

except that they have this marvellous Canadian veneer of dullness that helps you just zo-o-o-o-o-o-o-one out. Wooah! Wooah!
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Welp, that’s my list. Hope you were able to get something done while you read it with one eyeball. What do you tolerate at your house?

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Nanodiapers in a brave new world

Here’s a spot of light in the news this week: Huggies has just announced a new diaper designed for babies who weigh under two pounds.

Under two pounds.  Two pounds is how much a large loaf of bread weighs.

It’s not just that these babies are so tiny, and need tiny diapers, but they need to be curled up like little bean sprouts, and their poor little skin is terribly sensitive. Huggies quotes “an infant development specialist at Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital in Houston, Texas” as saying the new tiny diapers “conformed to the baby’s bottom without gapping or limiting leg movement. The thinner fasteners and less material at the waist provided a good fit for baby while still protecting their fragile skin.”

I mention all this because it’s good to remember that this is still a very excellent century to be alive. It was not so long ago that a baby born young enough to need a “nano preemie diaper” would never have a chance to need a diaper at all. Now such babies often survive, and even thrive.

In the same week, the Vatican has released a new Charter for Health Care Workers (the last one was in 1995; and that’s the Vatican site, so you’ll want to put on your parchment-filtering goggles so you can read it). It’s a directive for those who, among other things, care for premature babies and other that would have died in other centuries — and also for human beings who, in any other century, would have been allowed to live, but now may not.

Catholic Culture.org reports:

The Charter provides encouragement and guidance for health-care workers in coping with three stages of human life: “generating, living, dying.” Regarding “generating,” the document affirms the Church’s teaching on the immorality of abortion and destructive embryo research. It calls for treating infertility problems only by natural methods, and without destroying unborn lives.

The “living” section includes articles on topics as diverse as anencephaly, ectopic pregnancy, embryo reduction, vaccines, regenerative medicine, and the treatment of rare diseases with “orphan drugs.” The section on “dying” stresses the need to respect the dignity of the person, providing care but not extraordinary or burdensome treatment for those who are terminally ill.

A strange and terrible and wonderful time to be alive. Terrible and wonderful at the same time. As fast as medical gains are made, we dream up ways to exploit them. And so the Church rolls up her sleeves and sets to, giving guidance on problems that simply didn’t exist fifty, thirty, or even ten years ago.

I want to be a Catholic like the Church is a Catholic: looking clearly at life as it is right now, and saying, “There is good and bad here. How shall I help?”  It is no good pretending everything is fine, but it is no good pretending everything is dreadful, either.

In the meantime: Two-pound babies and one-pound babies are surviving. Thanks be to God.

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photo credit: Mrs. Jenny Ryan Preemie Diaper via photopin (license)

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Trump’s presidency is one big cliché. Run for your lives.

As wave after wave of bizarre news rolls in from the White House, some Americans may be tempted to think, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!” But that’s not so. The Trump presidency is actually one long string of tired ideas we’ve heard a million times.

But here’s the catch: tired ideas are somewhat more startling when someone actually acts on them.

You remember that scene in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where the ship picks up a passenger. and they discover that he’s come from the island where dreams come true. At first, the sailors can’t believe their luck, expecting to find loved ones alive again, or to be reunited with old flames.

Not so fast.

 

“Fools!” said the man, stamping his foot with rage. “That is the sort of talk that brought me here, and I’d better have been drowned or never born. Do you hear what I say? This is where dreams — dreams, do you understand — come to life, come real. Not daydreams: dreams.”

There was about half a minute’s silence and then, with a great clatter of armour, the whole crew were tumbling down the main hatch as quick as they could and flinging themselves on the oars to row as they had never rowed before; and Drinian was swinging round the tiller, and they boatswain was giving out the quickest stroke that had ever been heard at sea. For it had taken everyone just that half-minute to remember certain dreams they had had–dreams that make you afraid of going to sleep again–and to realize what it would mean to land on a country where dreams come true.

The voyage of the ship of state in 2017 comes to mind; only it’s the Island Where Commencement Addresses Come True. You’ve been to one or two of these snoozers in your lifetime, right? Your head droops, your tongue begins to loll out of your mouth as you hear the speaker drone on and on through platitude after platitude.

Well, say what you will about 2017, it hasn’t been boring. Here’s a few clichés that wake you right up when they come to life and start picking out new drapes for the Oval Office:

You can be anything you want to be if you believe in yourself. You can become head of the Department of Education even if you know less about the inside of a classroom than your average hornet could pick up before it got squashed by the janitor. You can get an appointment to almost any cabinet post, and the only qualification you’ll need is that you are completely untainted by experience with or knowledge of your post.

Don’t let other people tell you what to believe, as long as you hold your truth in your heart. Although it’s probably not wise to claim Your Truth was just a slip of the tongue when you you have already told the world Your Truth three separate times.

Don’t let anything divert you from pursuing your passion. Not marriage, not consent, not bodily autonomy. Just grab.

Never let anyone else define you or put artificial boundaries on what you can achieve. Separation of powers, schmeparation of powers. States’ right, schmates rights. Limited government . . . well, you get the schmidea.

Don’t sit back and let your friends shape the future. Be the change you (for some ungodly inexplicable reason) wish to see in the world.

But do lean on your friends. Lean hard.

Reject being limited by labels. People want to call you “pro-life,” that’s fine. You’ll take their vote. But you’ll go ahead and gleefully reject child refugees, gut legal protections for kids with special needs, openly mock the disabled, enthusiastically promote torture, and yank health insurance from the poor, including children and pregnant women.  And test out your awesome new military powers by killing an 8-year-old American girl. Let them label you “pro-life!”  You’re bigger than any label.

Reach for the stars. Or the Vatican. Or Russia. Or . . . just hang around in your bathrobe watching TV and leafing through drape fabric swatches.

And finally:

No matter what they take from you, they can’t take away your dignity. Nothing from nothing leaves nothing, updated several times daily.

 

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Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr (Creative Commons)

 

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Too much time online? Here’s an extension that’s helping me get control

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This is not a paid endorsement; I’m just passing along something that’s working for me.

I spend way too much time on social media, especially Facebook. Some of my friends suggested tips like “Just uninstall it!” or “Try spending more time outside!” My problem is that I truly need to be on social media to promote my blog and podcast, to interact with readers, and to get a sense of what people are interested in. I also use social media as a way of keeping up with the news, with culture and entertainment, and with spiritual reading. And, most of all, I like social media, because it lets me to spend time with friends and family, and to admire their pretty babies and show off mine, and to see and hear any number of things that make my life richer and nicer. AND BABY HIPPO VIDEOS!

So if I just quit, or cut it down to fifteen minutes a day, my life would change drastically for the worse. And it’s not always obvious when my work ends and my goof-off time begins; and anyway, goof-off time isn’t always a bad thing. I needed something that would help me get control without cutting me off altogether.

After scoping out dozens of apps and extensions, I tried out StayFocusd, which is a free extension for Chrome. It has done everything I was hoping it would do. I set it to let me be on Facebook for a certain number of minutes every day. (You can set it to block any site, or parts of any site; but Facebook is my main problem.)

A tiny angry eyeball is now on the top of my browser. When the Facebook tab is open, the eyeball is red;

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and if I click on the eyeball, it shows me a counter counting down how much time I have left.

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When I have a different tab open, the eyeball turns a less-threatening blue, and the counter stops.

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If the Facebook tab is open for a long time without any activity (as often happens, because I get pulled away from the computer by some kid emergency), it asks me if I’m still there, and pauses the counter until I answer it.

It gives you rather sassy messages designed to make you feel guilty if you try to access blocked sites after your time has run out:

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If you have time left and set it to increase your allotted time, it tries to dissuade you:

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and if you click “OK,” it tries again:

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It also praises you for decreasing your allotted time:

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It has a lot of features that I am not using, such as restricting which days and which hours of the day I can access sites; blocking sites altogether; requiring a difficult challenge before I can change any settings; and sensing up to five differently-timed warning messages when your time is close to running out. There is also “The Nuclear Option,” which “will block sites for the number of hours you indicate, independent of your Active Days or Active Hours. There is no way to cancel this once you activate it.”

Useful if you have a big deadline and can’t afford to goof off at all. You can also block just certain subsets of sites, like just logins or just images.

You can choose more than one site to time, but the timer keeps track of time spent on all timed sites (so you can’t give yourself, say, an hour on Twitter and an hour on Facebook; but you can set the timer for two hours and use it as you will). It says the guy is working on making an option for different timers for different sites.

StayFocusd doesn’t work on other browsers or on iPhones or iPads, but there is a paid app called Freedom that does. I haven’t tried it, so can’t review it; but if you use StayFocusd, you get a code for 40% off Freedom.

Now you know everything I know! It’s ideal combination of good technical design and a good understanding of human psychology. It’s easy to use, and has anticipated every way that people can cheat (as well as ways that people accidentally restrict themselves more than they meant to).

Every time I notice the little eyeball, I remember that I’m being timed, and I have to decide whether or not to keep using Facebook. It puts external controls on my behavior, but it also helps me remember to control myself, by doing things like deliberately leaving my devices behind when I move from room to room, not checking Facebook first thing when I get up or when I get home, and so on. Eventually, I’d like to establish such good habits of self-control that I won’t need an external controller, because it will have become so obvious that life is better without tons and tons of Facebook.

The first week, I gave myself more than enough time, and I aimed to change my behavior so that I had unused minutes at the end of the day. (Some days I succeeded, and some days I didn’t.) The second week, having gotten used to a few good habits, I decreased my allotted time, and I may do that again next week.

This could be a real boon for Lent.

Do you have a problem spending too much time online? Have you gotten control of your habit? What has helped you? I’m especially interested in hearing from folks whose work and leisure online activities overlap, as mine do.

 

What's for Supper?

What’s for Supper, Vol. 69: Instant Pot! Superbowl recipes! and stomach bug.

If I had to sum up this week in single word, it would be: I tried.

SATURDAY
Grilled chicken and salad

chicken-and-salad

Mr. Husband made this while I did something or other, probably drawing kittens on the backs of Corrie’s hands, or maybe just drinking. Under my evil influence, he cracked open another box or two of stolen poor person’s bacon and sprinkled that over the salad. It tastes a little bit better each time, if you were wondering.

I would like you to notice that, in an attempt to dress up this terrible, terrible food photo, I spread some paper bags under it. Then I moved them around a little to hide the bar codes, and then I decided I would just eat my food.

SUNDAY
Pork roast; oven roasted potatoes; cole slaw

I stabbed the pork all over, decided I was too lazy to mess around with garlic cloves, and rolled the meat around in Goya Mojo Criollo Marinade and let it wallow all day. We cooked it at 375 for a couple of hours and sliced it up.  Look how juicy! The flavor went right through to the middle, yum yum.

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The potatoes are mixed up with oil and some standard seasonings and slid into the oven for forty minutes or so.

Lena made cole slaw, which was a tiny bit of an odd pairing with the pork and potatoes, but it’s such a good, snappy cole slaw recipe, there will always be a spot on my plate for it.

MONDAY
Chicken burgers, chips, salad

Probably someone somewhere could think of something to say about this meal, but not me, not now.

Oh, wait! It is good with horseradish sauce. There.

TUESDAY
Fish tacos; tortilla chips

Irene careened into the kitchen on roller skates and started flailing around, knocking all the fish to the floor. But it was all right, because, she explained, it was already battered.

irene-fish

This February vacation, she’ll be bussing tables in the Catskills. Please tip generously, and let us know if you hear anything.

Fish, shredded cabbage, avocados, salsa, sour cream, and lime juice on flour tortillas. Can’t believe I went my whole life without knowing fish tacos were a thing.

fish-taco

I had cilantro, too but it mysteriously rotted away into pulp.
UPDATE: Corrie turned the refrigerator to 2, the stinker.

WEDNESDAY
Pizzas

Olive and pepperoni. One briefly and mysteriously burst into flame when all I did was drop it onto the heating coil, sheesh.

pizza-flambe

Oh, check it out: Benny is so good at making pizzas, she is now taking on apprentices.

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I know this is a blurry picture, but that expression of overwhelmed-by-cuteness, plus pride, just killed me. Good thing we had Corrie! Benny was born to be a big sister.

THURSDAY
Roast chicken thighs and potatoes; sweet peppers and hummus; chocolate rice pudding

This is the closest thing I came to trying a new recipe this week, and I didn’t come close enough to actually make it.

A dear lady sent me AN EIGHT-QUART INSTANT POT!!!!! It gleams and it is enormous and beautiful. Even Mighty Joe Young is impressed.

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I’ve been hearing all about the life-changing magic of pressure cooking, so I was super excited and made plans for this pressure cooker butter chicken recipe. But then I recalled that we had spent the week frolicking with a stomach bug, and tomato sauce and garam masala did not seem like the best choice, not after a week full of things like battered fish and pork in citrus sauce. Not that I ended up making something light and bland instead of butter chicken, but at least there was no tomato sauce.

(I put the chicken thighs in a shallow pan with a bunch of sliced potatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano, garlic powder, and rosemary, and cooked them at 375 for about thirty-five minutes, then turned on the broiler to brown them up a bit. Very easy and surprisingly tasty.)

I also discovered that I’ve been stockpiling peppers and hummus, so I sliced them all up and made a pretty rainbow pepper plate, thinking my kids would be delighted. I keep forgetting that they are not all four years old.

Anyway, they ate some vegetables.

colored-peppers

The van was in the shop all day, so I had some more time at home and was casting around for something to make in my brand new bella machina. With the ingredients I had on hand, and ignoring ideas like “but that doesn’t go with this meal in the slightest,” I settled on creamy rice pudding.

chicken-potato-peper-rice-pudding

I skipped the raisins because my family are a bunch of inauthentic swine and don’t care for raisins in things, and added some cocoa paste to the milk to give it a mild chocolate flavor. Very nice! Just like rice pudding should be, creamy and fragrant. We ate it warm and claimed it was for Candlemas, whatever that is.

The Instant Pot is FUN. Okay, releasing the steam valve is FUN. I showed the kids lots of pictures of pot lids embedded in the ceiling and pot bases embedded in the countertop, and now they are all properly terrified of it and will let me play with it all by myself.

FRIDAY
I got some heart-shaped pasta, thinking it would please Benny.
I . . . think it did?

benny-pasta-face

Not sure.

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Okay, so I have TWO questions for you, with some likely overlap.

1.There is that Sportsball thing coming up on Sunday. Hit me up with your favorite Sportsball party recipe, please. I tend to shy away from things like devilled eggs compressed into football shapes, or ham sandwiches trimmed into rectangles and dyed green to look like a football field. My one and only surefire Sportsball recipe is Jalapeno Popper Dip, which is completely disgusting, and has enough calories to light up the Eiffel tower, and you will suddenly notice that you accidentally ate all of it without chewing.

Oh, probably that bacon ranch crack bread stuff we made would go over well, too. This is the kind of food I’m looking for: Food that makes you feel equal parts shame and defiance the whole time you’re gobbling it down, and then it’s so salty that you require beer.

Second question: Whooooo has spectacular Instant Pot recipes for me — things for which the IP is just a godsend? I have been browsing through all the sites, and I joined a group, but you are the ones I trust. Main dishes, side dishes, veggies, soups, desserts, I want to know!

And finally, thanks again to the dear lady who sent me the Instant Pot! I would like you to know that, as I was reading through the manual, Corrie took a look under the lid, stuck her face right into the shiny inner pot, and then shouted with delight, “It ME!”

corrie-instant-pot-reflection

I don’t know how I’m ever going to top that dish, but I will try.

The Catholic Weekly

I so imperfect

resentful

You can start over even if you’re not sure God loves you. You can start oven even if you’re not sure He should.

And you don’t have to run. You can shamble over resentfully. You can sidle in doubtfully. You can skulk in with fear, doubt, despair, or even rage. As long as you go because you’re acknowledging that things are not good as they are, then that is good enough. It may not feel like it is enough, but that is what Christ has promised.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image: photo credit: trepelu toes (detail) via photopin (license)