Thursday, October 30, 2008


I must confess to seeing an episode or two of the Simpsons, most of which are sadly tame when compared to the horrors of Family Guy and South Park (really makes you want the Lord to come back right now, doesn't it?). I recall that the Simpson's episode concerned Homer and Bart being "tempted" to join the Catholic church. Somehow there was a charismatic Irish priest involved - no surprise.

When Marge, good Protestant that she is, got hold of the priest's wily scheme to maneuver Bart and Homer over to the "Roman" side of the house, she was horrified and outraged. Her minister's advice was to do whatever she could to get them away from the Catholics because, she must know, there were separate heavens for Protestants and Catholics and they would have to spend eternity apart if something wasn't done.

Marge commenced to imagine this. In the Catholic heaven, she even saw ethnic neighborhoods of a sort. In Italian heaven they were sitting around the banquet table, feasting and drinking good wine and being a little amorous. In the Irish heaven, they were playing raucous music, (like at the wild party going on in steerage class in the movie "Titanic"). All drunk, they were standing in a circle watching two guys more drunk than the rest duke it out. In short, they all "had a real good time". Marge was incensed!

Next in her mind's eye, she looks into Protestant heaven, and sees the redeemed all dressed in tasteful, white summer apparel, playing croquet, and calling each other little nicknames like Muffy and Scooter. Not being able to bear eternity in Protestant heaven without her family, Marge runs down to the Catholic church and yanks her loved ones away from such a scandalous fate.

I thought this was all quite amusing. It points to a perception, however inaccurate it may be, that Catholics are sort of the white trash of the Christian neighborhood. We have those "extra" books in our bible, wherein some believe we are given permission to have Bingo and raffling off of baskets of cheer. We are rather low class, and definitely a people of excess.

Excess drinking (which in some churches and religions means one drink), gluttonous feasting on way too many feast days (not to mention coffee, sweets and even wine and cheese in our meetings), and cheap forgiveness (party on Friday night, get absolved by the priest on Saturday afternoon)just provide the usual fodder for our "separated brethren" to look askance.

Our churches have notoriously been way too fancy, with all that gold, the candles and those idolatrous statues. (Interestingly, as a response to this, most post-WWII churches are built to look like airplane hangers or warehouses - dreary).
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The priest even dresses up for mass in fancy duds - robes and embroidery and all. Yes, we really indulge ourselves, don't we? And speaking of indulgence, well, let's not get into that.

I'm here to tell you, however, that Catholics see themselves quite differently. They'll complain about how our religion is too rigid, too austere, with too many rules - all that abstinence and fasting and those annoying holy days of obligation. Hence, we find our lives riddled with that ubiquitous and ever-present companion, Catholic guilt. The RC's think the Prots have a much more reasonable ride. Whereas they get the once confessed, always saved deal, we are always being monitored for whether or not we have remained in a state of grace from the time we awake and make our morning offering, until we've made the sign of the cross each night before going to sleep.

Many Catholics chafe against the proscription against sex outside of marriage, divorce, abortion, euthanasia, fetal stem-cell research, homosexual practices, to name the big ones. The mass is a tightly ordered affair, non-spontaneous for sure, with only minor changes in some of the wording according to the season. Many also feel we are chained to the Middle Ages when it comes to the all-male priesthood. This has begotten the proclivity of many to pick and choose what rules make them comfortable and they give themselves a pass for leaving the rest, hence the term "cafeteria Catholics".

And for Pete's sake, who needs the successor to Pete, anyway? The popes are always old, almost-dead white guys who speak with funny accents and are hopelessly out of touch.

I was raised Catholic, left for 30 years and was a rather righteous Protestant, then found myself spiritually beat up, wandering way down the empty, world-worn streets of disillusionment to find my mother church calling me in for supper. I looked up, thought about it for about half a second, and ran into her warm, loving arms, and I must say, am now as happy as a well-fed, sleepy baby.

I've explained this to affirm, with authority, that both sides have their legalism. Both have their idiosyncrasies. And both have their liturgical order, whether they realize it or not. In the most non-denominational, Spirit-filled church, you will find if you attend there a couple of weeks that they have a definite order in which they do things. Everyone sings (a lot!) at the beginning, and the praise music that starts out loud and boisterous inevitably transitions toward the conclusion into slower, more rhythmic tunes, wherein the words and phrases repeat in a way that sort of lulls the congregation. If you are timing things, you'll notice that the music starts and stops at roughly the same time every week, and the Holy Spirit, waiting in the wings as it were, shows up at the conclusion of the singing every week! Most times there is speaking in tongues, the interpretation, and some prophecy. Then on to the reading, the sermon, the offertory (somewhere in there), more music, sometimes communion, a few parting words, the blessing and you're outta there, and onto the coffee hour.

The mainline Prots do the same thing, minus all the singing, tongues, and prophecy, but with a hefty bunch of social justice and post modernism added. Then you have the non-charismatic but conservative churches with or without the singing but minus all the above-mentioned rest, stressing home, family, guidelines on dress, roles of men and women, homeschooling, and sometimes even what food should be in everyone's fridge.

Of course there is some overlap and I am no theological scholar, but that is kind of what my observations have told me since I have nested in each place, at one time or another, since I was 19 years old. I am now 54 years old, which is a grand place to be, old enough to be considered mature and experienced, but not yet (completely) senile.

My point is that each Protestant group stresses something, eschews something else, and has their own party line, which of course must always be towed. I've seen some congregations and/or their leaders getting way out there, and lives being damaged because of that. Of course, to be fair, nothing tops the Catholic Church when it comes to destroying lives, via pedophile priests and even by a few people who lied about being abused, for whatever, perhaps monetary reason. This of course has also occurred to some degree in the Protestant church, but isn't as widely known.

Sin finds its way in everywhere, doesn't it? It might be well to admit that, since God is not fooled in any case.

But I am here to make a case for being Catholic. We are, above everything else, a bunch that says yes to life. Jesus said, "I came that they may have life, and have it more abundantly", and the Catholic world-view has really taken it to heart. My goodness, even the new catechism goes on and on to reassure people that when they do something wrong, its not always premeditated and mortal, but most of the time just sort of second-degree in nature. Mercy and tolerance of the frailty of human nature are the way we roll, and God the Father went pretty far to make the point: Jesus.

I think Catholics have a more child-like faith, accepting what more enlightened people think is naive (e.g., the Pope is the boss) and foolish (the blessed Mother thinks of all of us as her children and can really pull some strings for us when we're down for the count). I think that Catholics take the Lord at his word when He said He would not leave us comfortless. Now, we all know He was talking about the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit breathes life into us, and for Catholics that is a God-breathed joyful life that includes feast days, New Year's Eve, with weddings, and even showers, baptism and confirmation parties being held in nice restaurants with great food and sometimes dancing!

Interestingly, we even value and stress a good education for everybody. Switch the channel to EWTN (Eternal Word television Network) and listen to the level of the scholarly discussions going on there night and day.

After all, (along with the first hospitals and ambulance corps) we built the first schools back in those Middle Ages, and sent the good sisters over to this shore in droves to educate, gratis, generations of immigrants, transforming them into educated, English-speaking, productive Americans capable of contributing to and eventually taking leadership positions across American society.

Yeah, we are pro-life, a position which if not taken, by definition makes all other rights, moot. If you have to be put in a hospital or nursing home and you value your life, you better hope and pray you get into a Catholic facility - no plug pullers there!

Perhaps you do want the plug pulled on you, if so, you have plenty of other options in the culture of death which pervades modern society. Go for it. But I thank God for the Catholic universal family, watching my back. And that's what the Roman Church is, a very big family, in which, despite language differences I can attend Mass anywhere in the world and still follow what is going on.

You know, in our Family, we also include the Church Triumphant, those who went before us, that great cloud of witnesses cheering us on. That is why we have no problem ringing them up in the spiritual, to ask for their prayers, hence us praying to (a more accurate term would be "nagging") the saints, beseeching them to intercede for us with their prayers.

Not much different than calling your prayer partner on your cell phone. And don't come back with that, "Well how do I know Saint Anthony is really in heaven? It might be dangerous to pray to him." Well, how do you know your living prayer partner or even pastor is going to go to heaven? At least with us, our heavenly "prayer partners" have been vetted by holy mother Church and by the Pope himself.

Uh, oh, the Pope. I have no problem with the Holy Father since I noticed, for years in the Sola Scriptura churches, that despite their having the inerrant word of God for referral (as do we, plus the apostolic teaching authority, beginning with Peter), they seemed to disagree on everything from one church to another and even from one believer to another. That's why people are always leaving those churches and running to other ones, or starting "home churches".

Everybody is their own little pope, and for my part, I think one is enough. Besides, letting him do his job, frees me up to do mine, which is to joyfully accept God's kingdom like a little child, an attitude without which, I have on good authority, renders me incapable of entering on in.

So here's to joy unspeakable, to holy days and holidays, to fine art in our churches, delighted thanksgiving for all the gifts, temporal and spiritual, and may I offer love, mercy and peace to all this All Hallows' Eve!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Cottages in the Irish Countryside

"But godliness with contentment is great gain." I Timothy 6:6

"And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse [any] falsely; and be content with your wages." Luke 3:14

"Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, [therewith] to be content." Philippians 4:11

"And having food and raiment let us be therewith content." I Timothy 6:8

"[Let your] conversation (behavior) [be] without covetousness; [and be] content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." Hebrews 13:5

In our ladies bible study yesterday, we were discussing the verse, John 6:12, in which Jesus, after having miraculously fed the 5,000 with just a little boy's lunch of fish and bread, instructs his disciples to: "...Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. "

This got us talking about the economy of God, which includes the fact that Jesus shows us his care and concern for the very least of us, and desires that none be lost. That God does not like waste, even in the natural sense, seems obvious to me, as well. We are admonished in Scripture to be thankful for what we have, not to squander it on foolishness, not to be envious, greedy, gluttonous, or hoarders and misers, but to enjoy what we have and share it with others.

The conversation continued with several of us, some older than me, talking about how their mothers or grandmothers conducted their lives in the Great Depression and for the years that followed.

Some of the younger ones were a bit surprised I think, to hear that people did some of the following:

darn (mend) holey socks

bathe more than one child in the same bathwater

turn collars on mens' shirts (remove collar from shirt, sew it back on with the worn side out, which doesn't show when you turn the collar down, and gives the shirt another lease on life).

hang clothes on the line to dry, both in summer and winter

hang pillows on the line to air them out

take worn clothes apart, to make other things out of them

use cloth diapers

Have you ever heard of the saying, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without"?

Well, that was the motto on the slightly worn, unseen coat of arms of the common man. My father and mother, who squeezed so much out of each penny that you could hear little Mr. Lincoln screaming, taught me a lot about frugality, I am finding, and mostly by just being around them and unconsciously being imprinted by their philosophy and behavior.

With the exception of turning collars, I have used all of the above strategies as a matter of course. There are tons of other little tidbits I could offer, and hope to in subsequent posts, but I think my overarching principle is to avoid spending your money at all if you don't have to. In other words, rather than buying something in bulk or at the Macy's ladies' 50% off dress sale and then bragging to everyone about the great deals you got, just don't buy the stuff at all, if you don't really need it.

If you can borrow a book at the library, why go out and buy it? Its good to have a few books, for reference or whatever, but for most books, it is probably unnecessary. Once you part with your good money to buy it, you have to store it, dust it, and wonder what to do with it when your bookshelf is overflowing.
If it is non-fiction and informational, make notes about what interests you, then drop it back off at the library when you are done.

The same goes doubly for DVD's. Good heavens, what a waste! So say I, anyway. Rent them. Nothing worse than having DVD's out the yingyang. Why would people work two jobs just to buy stuff like that, then trip all over it and finally put up with the worst purgatory on Earth - the yard sale? The yard sale is where you spend days assembling your junk, agonizing over what price to put on it, labeling said junk, then being ready at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning for the "early birds". You spend the next several hours alternatively trying, in the style of a used-car-salesman, to interest people into giving you good cash for this this crap sitting in your front yard, or haggling with people who think your fire-sale prices are over-inflated. Then, at the end, the vultures show up with their little Mr. Lincolns and you let them take your bunch of "lovely, expensive merchandise and prized heirlooms" away for about 1 percent of what you paid. Or worse, nobody buys much of anything, and you have to put all this junk back or load it up and cart it off to Goodwill or the dump.

I suppose my thinking would be considered eccentric, for sure, but I come by it honestly. I get it from my father. He was the king of saving little bits of this and that and finding good uses for them. Whatever you needed to have made or done could usually be supplied from his mysterious cellar. My mother said that when he married her, all he owned were his clothes in a small suitcase. Though we never saw him bring anything in the house, yet the cellar became full of old tools and infinite materials with which to fashion a really interesting life.

He also had a fondness for gathering wild food, (it was free!) and I must say, traipsing along with him in the fields and woods for wild berries, dandelions, fiddle-ferns and the like have been some of the most enjoyable times of my life, and have provided many sweet memories.

We went sledding and skating a lot. We didn't go skiing, as that was for rich people, but he came up with an old pair somewhere with which he invented his famous "ski-sled". This was the precursor of something they probably do now as a sport. His creation consisted of these giant (maybe water-) skis, upon which he built a wooden seat from scraps of old wood. Topping things off was a large sail-like thingy. One cold, winter day when the snow on the ground was good and solid, probably with a veneer of ice, he took my brother and I across the road to the field and we tried it out. I was about 4 or 5 years old.

We all got on the thing, and wow, did it take off! My dad and my brother either fell off the back or jumped off. I laughed at them and stayed on, enjoying the fact that I was four or five and going sixty or seventy all by myself! I looked back because they were yelling at me, "Get off, jump off!!!" I looked ahead at the chain link fence that I was headed for. After enjoying a few more seconds of wild delicious freedom, I jumped off, just in time to avoid the big crash. We all thought it was pretty funny.

Wow!! Tell me that homemade fun isn't FUN! Yeah, my Dad was a fun guy, and my mother, the neighborhood nervous wreck, was always fussing at him. But she herself was a domestic goddess and practiced some kind of alchemy, wherein she turned my Dad's lower middle-class paycheck into a golden life of warmth, good food, and everything we needed.

One thing my mother wasn't, was a slave to fashion. She had a small wardrobe, some of which was handed down from some sisters-in-law who were married to my uncles, the
(would you believe) used car salesmen. I think the only piece of real gold that she owned was in her thin wedding ring. She was extremely intelligent, a fabulous cook and baker, a real people-person who loved having company or going visiting, and was especially fond of playing poker for pennies, nickel limit.

So we always ate like kings, had small wardrobes ourselves but very good shoes (she was adamant about having "good support" for one's feet), slept in clean sheets in soft beds with fluffy, well-aired pillows and had lots of company, mostly other Italians who loved to talk really loud and make lots of jokes.

We did a lot of laughing, but to be honest, my mother also did a lot of screaming as she was quite high strung. Now, when I think back about that though, it makes me laugh, so all in all, I would put our frugal little life in the happy category, or should I say, we were quite contented with our life, and with ourselves.

I would just wish for people today to make do with less in order to have more time to enjoy their lives and to simply have fun. I will keep banging this drum, because I just want people to realize that they do not need all the things they are now afraid of losing. Even back then, my mother could have worked, I suppose. If she had, however, been out of the house with a full-time career (her little forays into and hasty retreats from peddling Avon and Sarah Coventry jewelry do not count), she wouldn't have been able to lay down with her toddler in the afternoon for a nap. There would not have been those mid-week trips downtown on the bus, nor the summer picnic lunches in the nearby park. And we wouldn't have come home from school to a cheery greeting from someone who loved us, and the smell of freshly brewed coffee and dinner in the oven.

We valued something other than "things". My father worked as a laborer (ditch digger) on construction when I was a child. That meant a lay-off slip for the winter, usually right before Christmas. We would make do all winter on his unemployment and the money they had saved from their tax return. They weren't afraid, they just did it, and we never noticed a difference in our lifestyle between winter and summer. Of course, we never had a new car, but we always had a used one, and you can guess who that came from.

Instead of things, my father had time. He would take us (walking) us to the public library once a week, as he was an avid reader of detective stories, and always in need of a weekly supply. And of course, unemployment freed him up all the more for all the skating, sledding, and inventing of the strange and the wonderful. I still have the little hammer that I used to bang nails into scrap wood with, down in the cellar next to my Dad while he worked on his projects.

So, I urge us to relax a little, and relax! We don't need big houses (ours was 1100 square feet), new cars, and entertainment that you have to pay a lot of money for. If we have someone to love, we have 99% of what we could ever need or want. If we don't, we can find someone, which is pretty easy. Just make sure you have time to talk really loud, tell stories and laugh with them... a lot!!!!!!!

A village in upstate NY

Friday, October 24, 2008


Virgin of the Angels, 1881 by William Adolph Bouguereau, The Getty Museum, Courtesy of Forest Lawn Memorial Park Association.

I haven't seen any this week, but then again, why would I need to? I have been kept safe and inspired to do good, so that's some weighty evidence right there.

Friday again, and here is the saucy counterpoint to the white clam sauce: red, naturally! The lord of the manor here prefers the white, but the youngsters actually prefer the red. The process for making this is much the same and either serves at least 4 (really hungry) people and most likely more. Remember, Italian food is also the most wonderful stuff for leftovers:

Red Clam Sauce

Angel Hair Pasta with Red Clam Sauce

1 lb. angel hair pasta (an ultra-thin spaghetti, but any long noodles will do)
2 or more cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup Olive oil
Plain tomato sauce - I use Hunts, either 4 small cans, 2 medium cans or 1 large - the point is, use roughly a quart, give or take.
2 cans chopped clams, 6.5 ozs. each (I use Snow's brand) with their juice!
red pepper flakes to taste
Parsley, basil and oregano to taste.
Good quality grated cheese (I use loccatelli and grate my own).

Start heating up a large pot of salted water for your pasta. In a separate saucepan, saute the garlic in the olive oil, till garlic is translucent (angelic!).
Add the red sauce, the clams with their juice and the red pepper and herbs. Keep this at a low temperature so the clams don't get tough.

When the pasta water is vigorously boiling, add the Angel hair, and stir it all up to keep it from sticking together. Fine, thin noodles like angel hair, capellini, and vermicelli all cook really quickly in less than 5 minutes, so don't run off!

When done, drain pasta, and serve in a platter, the cooking pan or other dish. I usually put a little olive oil on the dish first, and maybe drizzle a bit onto the pasta before pouring the clam sauce over all of it.

Accompany with a green salad, maybe some Italian bread and some sherbet or other light, icy thing for dessert. And revel in this delicious, magical time of year!

Friday, October 17, 2008


Angels can always be counted on to impress. Their visages shine and glow with supernatural light. In fact their entire bodies, being of spirit, are translucent and seem to be made of light. I've seen them in a vision or two, and they are definitely not the little cherubic darlings depicted so often in art. Nor are they the wise-cracking, laid-back types.

They are big, for one thing - and serious. When you encounter them, you become serious, as well. Immediately. Being addressed by a big, HOLY, supernatural being, sent from God Himself, whose body is made out of light, even down to the skin, but perfectly formed (this is hard to describe) gives new meaning to the term "shock and awe".

I love to think about them, and how knowing they are there banishes my lowered expectations of what I might expect out of this life and the next. I need to do this often, because life, when you don't purposely live each moment, begins to grate on one's spirit with its mundane routine, minor annoyances, and the drip-drip rhythm of recurring disappointment.

Paul's letter to the Philippians (Phil. 4:8) admonishes me to stay my mind on the things that are honest, just, pure, lovely of good report, the virtuous and the praiseworthy. Of course, meditating on the Lord Himself and all His works is plenty enough to occupy a lifetime. It is a duty and privilege.

And in so doing, I am always eventually led to praise and thank Him for His creation and all that is good within it. Certainly the subject of the holy angels, who are God's messengers, protectors and healers, rates as one of the best things to remember from time to time.

As I write this on a Friday, a day that Tradition sets aside to honor Our Lord's passion and death, the Catholic world still abstains from meat, (yes, we really do, but nowadays you can substitute this for some other act of mortification, and goodness knows there exist plenty of opportunities for experiencing one). I'm going to finish this little post, therefore, with a recipe appropriate both to the subject at hand and the day of the week. I must admit, the following dish, a family favorite, takes no sacrifice to eat!

Angel Hair Pasta with White Clam Sauce

1 lb. angel hair pasta (an ultra-thin spaghetti, but any long noodles will do)
2 or more cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup Olive oil
2 sticks (which is 8 ozs. or 1 cup) butter
2 cans chopped clams, 6.5 ozs. each (I use Snow's brand) with their juice!
red pepper flakes to taste
Parsley, basil and oregano to taste.
Good quality grated cheese (I use loccatelli and grate my own).

Start heating up a large pot of salted water for your pasta. In a separate saucepan, saute the garlic in the olive oil, till garlic is translucent (angelic!).
Add the butter, and melt over medium heat, taking care not to burn it. Then add clams with their juice and the red pepper and herbs. Keep this at a low temperature so the clams don't get tough.

When the pasta water is vigorously boiling, add the Angel hair, and stir it all up to keep it from sticking together. Fine, thin noodles like angel hair, capellini, and vermicelli all cook really quickly in less than 5 minutes, so don't run off!

When done, drain pasta, and serve in a platter, the cooking pan or other dish. I usually put a little olive oil on the dish first, and maybe drizzle a bit onto the pasta before pouring the clam sauce over all of it.

Serve with the grated cheese and a nice green salad!! Oh my, this is heavenly! Thank the Lord and enjoy!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Painting by Grandma Moses

What Mrs. Bartlett Said Last Year About the Economy

Annie commented on the last post, bringing up several good points on how to stabilize our economy. I found her third point most intriguing. She said:

"A new economic engine must be found to replace the endlessly expanding consumer spending by Americans which has driven the world economy over the last 25 years. Americans must learn to save and conserve energy. Capital investment and job creation could focus on development of 'green' energy instead of endless consumer spending."

This reminded me of what Mrs. Bartlett, in commenting on another post last year, had to say. I believe these two ladies ideas overlap, or complement each other well. Thanks to both of them. Here are Mrs. Bartlett's thoughts from January 2007 (and were they ever prophetic!):

"I'm just writing off-the-cuff, so if I'm mistaken and someone else understands economics better than I, please feel free to contradict!

An economy is not an entity or a purpose to itself. It is an abstraction, a sort of system that exists purely to serve the needs of a given populace. It is "good" or "bad" based on what the populace requires--not based on some theory that has a certain goal in mind. WE do not fit it; IT fits us. That's what I see, so you know my perspective.

Now for your question itself. "Staying true to our Biblical principles" and "being good stewards of the Lord's creation," as you so aptly put it, IS the best method to have a solid economy.

Firstly, if we do not spend more than we make--or if we must borrow, only borrow what we can afford to repay--then we do not place ourselves at risk of defaulting on our obligations. It is the default that causes our credit-card interest rates to be nearly 30%, and taxes the legal system (and the welfare system). To be honorable, to give "credit where credit is due," is a tremendous boost. What we see now is an artificial inflation of our economy, of people buying more than they can afford, and it will crash when those spenders find they can't make their payments.

Another thing we can do is to STAY AT HOME. As we women push ourselves into the workforce--especially at the expense of more qualified men, thanks to affirmative action--we cause a "glut" on the market. It becomes an employer's market; we have to compete to get the jobs. If we stay home and let the men do the job-getting, not only would unemployment diminish drastically, but it would shift to an employee's market--the competition would become the employers trying to attract employees, meaning higher wages for them. Theoretically, of course.

If we were to decrease consumption, by doing for ourselves, we would cause a tremendous increase in the "raw materials" market, shifting away from the "ready-to-go" market. Companies would adjust to the change; some might diminish and go out of business, but others would increase and take up the slack.

Gas prices would come down. Yes, they would. Our demand for oil would diminish radically if half of the cars buzzing about simply stopped doing so--and the choke hold OPEC has on us would have to be loosened.

Health care prices would drop off drastically. With fresh food being prepared, with a mind to the health of the family as opposed to "Make the food taste better than the competition's," many of today's health problems would be quickly eliminated. Insurance costs would drop off, and more families could afford it--taking further burden off of the government.

And if we stay home, we have more spare time to dedicate to our neighbors. We would be able to anticipate someone's need and take care of it ourselves, rather than letting government shoulder it. Lower taxes would result.

That's just what I've got.

Mrs. Bartlett"

I had always puzzled over the seemingly given "wisdom" that in order to have a thriving economy, we must constantly consume goods and services. When the president told us in the aftermath of 9/11 that we could be patriotic by going shopping, I kind of understood where he was coming from, but something about it didn't seem right. Our parents and grandparents had always handed down to us the admonishment to have a savings and to try to do things for ourselves if possible, instead of going out and buying the thing or service.

Too bad we didn't buy into that philosophy, instead of allowing ourselves to be sold a bill of goods.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Are you familiar with that Ghost Hunter program on the SciFi channel, one of many such shows popping up lately? Shouldn't it be renamed, "Haunting the Ghost", since they constantly invade these quiet places with their hi-tech equipment, going to all that painstaking trouble to find, most of the time, nothing? If ghosts inhabit the place, they probably decide to go visit the time-share till the whole thing blows over.

Did you ever think that we can look so hard for something, relentlessly pine away for someone long gone, or otherwise dwell on the past, to the point where we are the stalker, the one doing the haunting? A bit of a waste.

I had a dream the other night, about a "Frankie and Annette/John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John" type couple, out for a sunny day at the beach with their buddies, circa 1960. As they scampered up over the dunes and out of site, the scene changed to the present. Apparently, our beach girl had a brother, now an older man, who cannot get over the mysterious death of his sister so long ago on that golden beach. (Something dreadful had happened that day to the couple, but I am not aware of what befell them).

Well, the brother blames the boyfriend, who also died that day, and therefore won't let go of his anger at the guy, and seems to prefer the agony of not being able to let go. He constantly visits the beach or dead boyfriend's abandoned house, cursing and railing at poor Frankie/John.

In my dream its like I'm watching a movie about the whole thing. I see Frankie/John, who in the afterlife has become a roving reporter, catching up with celebrity ghosts who scurry by, giving him snippets of interviews as he follows them with his outstretched spectral microphone. He is, however, constantly having to stop what he's doing and just stand there, and silently endure it, whenever big brother shows up to rant and rave. Frankie is definitely bummed by it. Some kind of purgatory, I guess.

As Austin Powers would say, "What does it all mean, Basil?" Who knows? Maybe just that we waste a lot of time, clinging to what is gone (my girlish waist, your 401K?),
when perhaps we could take something learned or a great old recipe or two, and move on to enjoy THIS October day, this golden morning, this apple in the orchard waiting to be picked. This day we have the chance to smile at someone who needs it, perhaps desperately. Wow. Could there even be a little poem nestled in your fevered brain, waiting to escape?! Here's my little attempt, in iambic pentameter:

October Day

Straight and sturdy, leathered brown, the maple
tree, a brave wise creature, I've come to see
holding branches bearing bright, profusely
colored banners, in variegated light.

Dare I be bold as you, show my colors,
tone and hue to use this gentle Autumn
day to make amends in small way. Sorrows,
wasted time and idle words do I repent

and vow to better bless the world with time
spent bearing little candles bright with rhyme
and recipes and hope for humankind
joyous colors of Fall, and quiet mind.

Whew, glad to have that out of my head and onto the keyboard. Need to make room, you know, Fall cleaning and all. Here are a couple of lovely recipes for the season:

Lentil and Sausage Soup

One onion, chopped
1 or more cloves of garlic, peeled, chopped
One half lb., or more, Italian sausage, loose,(or if in links, break apart) COOKED
Olive oil to saute onion and garlic in
8 cups chicken stock or broth
2 and 1/2 cups dried lentils
3-4 bay leaves
1 cup carrots, sliced
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp. dried marjoram (I substituted oregano)
1 tsp. dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste

Saute onion and garlic for 5 minutes or till tender (don't burn the garlic).
Drain oil, if you wish, and add broth and lentils.
Cover, simmer 30 minutes.
Add remaining ingredients.
Simmer 25 minutes more.
Remove bay leaves, and serve.



2 cups sifted flour
3/4 cup sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Sift above ingredients together. In a separate bowl, beat 1 egg into 1 and 1/2 cups applesauce (if you use homemade applesauce, which is usually heavier, then cut down to 1 cup). Add to dry ingredients with 2 Tbsp. melted shortening or vegetable oil. Nuts may be added if desired. Bake in loaf pan, at 350 degrees F. for 1 hour.

Happy cooking and baking, happy season!!!!!!!

Monday, October 06, 2008


This is a cautionary tale for clever little girls and all the rest of us.

There once was a little orphan girl who managed well enough on her own. She was pretty, bright, and of course very resourceful. Under the kindly eye of the local woodsman, she made her humble home in the nearby forest, making daily forays into the village to amuse herself as well as to gather leftovers, hand-me-downs and other scraps that the townspeople had discarded. Her prize possession was a pair of red shoes that she had fashioned for herself. Of course they were odd-looking, having been crudely stitched together by a child from leftover bits of this and that, but to the little girl they were a source of pride and accomplishment. She would skip down the village streets, admiring herself in the store windows as she passed by them, free as a little red bird, living life on her own terms.

One late afternoon, at dusk as the sun was setting, the little girl was making her way home on the dusty road to the forest when she heard a carriage approaching from behind. When the carriage caught up to her, it stopped, and a withered old woman of high birth and a fat bank account leaned out of the window and spoke to the orphan.

"Little orphan girl, come close to the carriage, my eyesight is very poor, and I wish to see you better", she said in a weak voice. The little girl thought about this for a second, then skipped up to the coach.

"Hmm, just as I thought", mused the old Dame. "I know you are an orphan, but you are a pretty little thing, even though you are filthy and unkempt", said she with a shudder. She continued, "It is no good for a nice little girl to live alone in the woods, is it? I am very rich, but all alone is this world, as well. Why don't you come and live with me in my great manor home, and you can have all the pretty things you desire and eat the choicest food! Come and be my little daughter!"

Well, the girl, who was wise beyond her young years, thought this a strange offer, indeed! For all she knew, this old, frail woman could be an evil witch, hungry for the little girl's flesh and thirsty for her blood!

Just then, the good woodsman appeared from the treeline, done with his day's hard labor and ready to head for home. "One moment, if you please, my lady, as I wish to ask my friend and protector for his advice", said our young heroine, managing a quick curtsy as she scampered off towards the man. The woodsman squatted down to her eye level to hear the excited recitation of all that had just transpired between the old woman and the little orphan. As she looked into his broad, honest face, she almost thought she detected a tinge of sadness enter his kind eyes as he replied.

"She is an upstanding lady and well-known in our parts for her vast wealth, child. 'Tis true, the woods is no place for a little maid to dwell alone. You will have a full stomach, toys and grand clothes, and all manner of pretty things if you go with her. Of course there will be rules for you, as there are for all young ladies, and you will have to be obedient to your new mistress, and live according to her wishes. Remember, though, this is your choice, and free you are to make it".

The little girl only heard the words that had followed the bit about the toys and pretty things, but I'm afraid she did not ponder them so much, as it was nearly dark and her stomach was growling. She thanked her friend, hugged him farewell, and flew like a little red bird to the waiting carriage. As soon as she had alighted onto the seat next to the old lady, the door slammed shut.

At the grand house that night, after she had been washed and fed, put into proper nightclothes, and ensconced in a warm, soft bed, our young lady fell into a deep slumber. So soundly did she sleep that she heard not her new "mother" standing in the doorway, pointing a bony finger in disgust at the girl's belongings, strewn on the bedroom floor. She commanded her servants to consign the hand-me-down clothes and her precious, handmade red shoes to the fire, where the old mistress ordered them to be destroyed lest they bring pestilence into the great hall.

The days passed by in a flurry of fittings and visits from curious old friends of Ma-ma. A governess was assigned to teach the young lady her lessons, and the young charge maintained a veneer of compliance, although secretly she was beginning to chafe at all the expectations and routine of her new home. She was especially dismayed to find that all reminders of her old life had been "lost", it seemed. Particularly upsetting was the disappearance of the wonderful red shoes. Somehow all the dainty food had made her very full, but not satisfied. The fine furnishings, toys and lovely clothes distracted her enough it is true and she was just a child, we should remember, but still and all, there seemed something missing. Something she couldn't quite define, and anyways, as the days passed the feeling was dulled into unknowing.

One day, Ma-ma announced that firstly, her daughter would soon be baptized, and secondly, they would leave at once for the county seat, a large town where the grand shops were, in order to purchase a fitting gown and fancy, delicate shoes to match for the special occasion.

The gown had been purchased, luncheon had been taken, and it was early afternoon (the time when the old noblewoman customarily took her nap) when the party arrived at the shoemaker's. I'm afraid Ma-ma , was very tired, not too attentive and could see even less well than usual, so she sat herself down while her charge surveyed the shoemaker's wares. Meandering her way to the back of the shop, our resourceful little girl spotted something wondrous.

There, in a glass case, were the most elegant, sparkly red shoes one could ever imagine! In fact, the little girl, clever as she was, had indeed not ever imagined anything so intoxicatingly desirable! The shoemaker, seeing her interest, quickly came over to speak with her. "Do you see something you fancy, my dear?", he asked cloyingly.

With eyes round and still fixed on the shoes, she replied, "Oh yes, please sir, I will have these!"

"Are you sure they would be appropriate for a baptism, my little lady?"

"Why yes."

Glancing over the bent head of the transfixed child to the old dame sitting on a setee at the front of the store, he queried, "They are rather expensive, you know. Will the lady quite approve?"

"Quite". Finally, she tore her gaze away from the jewel-like, firey red shoes and looked up at the shoemaker, who had the same look about him, it seemed to her, as some of the forest creatures, one of the weasley, ferret-type ones. She stared into his tiny eyes. "Oh, but do wrap them first, before you take them up front".

He winked at her as he took the shoes in hand to wrap them. "Certainly, and right away, miss".

The day of the baptism came. Underneath the floor-length white gown were the red shoes. Just before she left her bedroom, she stopped to admire herself in the large mirror, raising her gown a few inches to admire the hypnotically beautiful slippers, red as blood and with sparkles sharp as shards of glass. She remembered, for a moment, her old, handmade scrip-scrap shoes and wistfully recalled how free and proud she had felt, skipping up the streets of the old village in them. Why had she felt that way? Staring at her new self in the mirror, it was hard to remember. Anyways, these shoes were so much better. In fact, they invoked far different feelings in her. They excited her in a way that was actually quite strange.

Around the church, carriages were parked everywhere. The edifice was packed and the old lady was made much over as she arrived with her new little daughter. She entered the church like Caesar arriving in Rome after a successful campaign of subduing barbarians and claiming their land. Just before she entered, the little girl saw an old sailor man standing next to the front door. He winked at her and leaned in to whisper in her ear, "May your red shoes be dancing shoes", he said in a raspy whisper, followed by a guttural laugh.

She looked up at him and just then, a feeling came over her, or more to the point, over her feet and legs. Involuntarily she began to dance a little jig. The old lady, a few feet ahead of her, looked back in surprise and then pointed a bony admonishing finger as she ordered her to stop and behave properly in church. The little girl looked back at her, both puzzled, yet strangely elated as she danced down to the front of the church and jigged and reeled like the best Celtic clogger, right there at the altar!

The congregants began to murmur as they viewed this weird display of footwork. The old priest, puzzled, then angry, soon began to see that this was involuntary. "The work of Satan!" he shrieked, as on and on the little girls feet moved in a frenetic, uncontrollable dance.

"Stop, stop, stop!!!", the crowd screamed, but to no avail. The girl, now clearly frightened, wheeled around as in a folk-dancey way and stared at them in horror.

"I cannot! Somebody help me! Please!!", she cried. A few brave parishioners came out of the pews and, bending down around the terrified child, attempted to hold down the legs, the feet, but unsuccessfully did they try to stop the dancing. Finally a large man wrapped his arms around her from behind, and in a reverse bear-hug, lifted her from the floor. "Pull the shoes off her", he boomed, in a voice as large as he.

Do you think they were able to remove the shoes? They were not. Finally, the man released her and when she touched the floor, off she went as her dancing shoes commanded her. Out the door and down the lonely road she danced. All day long she danced. Over hill and dale, in field and lane, with face and gown dirty and dusty as the anguished tears flowed down, she danced.

Through unbearable exhaustion she danced towards the forest, at dusk, just as it was getting dark. "Oh Woodsman, oh my friend, where are you? Please, please oh please be here!!" she implored through sobs. The gentle woodsman, having finished for the day, had just hoisted his trusty axe upon his shoulder to head for home when he heard the poor, miserable creature crying out to him, just inside the treeline.

Following the cries, he soon found her in a little clearing, dancing a murderous little jig! "For the love of Joseph and Mary, my little child, what has happened to you?!!", he implored. She explained through tears and sobs, the whole story, including how the wizened sailor man, old Satan, as he truly was, must have put a curse on her and the shoes.

"Please, I beg you, Woodsman, help me!!" she moaned in exhaustion. The woodsman, try as he might, could not hold her still, nor could he remove the shoes. Helpless and useless, he began to cry as well.

At last, the little orphan, resourceful to the end, looked up at him and with steady gaze, though her voice was faltering, implored him. "Then, for the love of God and His holy angels, cut them off."

The woodsman, horrified, stood frozen as he looked into her face. Finally he whispered, "No, no, I cannot".

"Yes, my friend, if ever you were my friend, take your axe and chop my feet off".
She could hardly whisper herself, now, so tired to the point of death was she.

He crossed himself, he prayed, and then he did the merciful deed.

The ensuing years found the girl, turned woman, now crippled, only just able to hobble short distances on her little crutches that the woodsman fashioned, through his tears, for her. She found pity and some provision from the nearby convent of sisters, who provided shelter and did what they could, although they were poor themselves. Thus, much diminished, she spent the rest of her sad life in the little village, until the angels themselves came and took her home.

The moral of the story is this: Remember, the devil's pretty things always come with a curse. Your little handmade life, cleverly self-sustained, is worth more than all the fine homes, the built-in sprinklers, the new car smell and all the other frippery that can be borrowed or appropriated with plastic or resume-inflation. What is honestly yours brings no care or strife with it, and you can always work to improve your situation, gradually, from scrips and scraps, if need be.

If you can only afford to rent one room in someone's house, do it with pride because you know you are actually living as a free agent, within your means. My grandparents, having come upon hard times, actually had to do this, with four children, no less. But they found a way past that, and they eventually made things better for themselves.

Don't let fear have its way with you. We are all God's children and He will always help us if we ask him humbly and are willing to do what He says.

Don't believe all the blame-placing hype you are hearing. Never mind who is at fault for this crumbling economy, this boom-boom life that has now gone bust. Control your own self and your expenditures, and you will be truly free. Work on your relationships, both old and new. Investing in them always brings a profitable return.

"Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife." Proverbs 17:1 NIV

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

As the light goes out in the West.....

October, the dying of the year. The sun retreats from the northern hemisphere, and so the days grow short. Mornings are foggy, and early morning fragrance comes to me of rich earth and dying vegetation, a musty, pungent portent of the coming, long slumber of winter.

This is a time of letting go
But one of sadness?
Uh, not yet, no!!

Sure, we have to say so long to summer's warmth and brightness, and this year it seems, to a way of life. The empire, like the sun, like the Dow, is in decline. Hearing the term, "The economy" , makes one's stomach do a little flutter, a feeling usually reserved to getting less than optimal lab results.

And just in time for Halloween, here are a few more "really scary" words: Russia, China, terrorists, and all the various bit players in their power-plays.

The blank, anomalous sun.


Gas, its price and availability.

The Election and the (truly frightening ) Candidates.

The Flu.

Bills (going up as) Savings, Earnings, 401K's (go down).

Well, you know what? Call 1-800-Wah- Waah and let's just get through our grieving process. Some of our problems cannot be controlled or made better by us as individuals, but as a nation, so keep banging on the heads of your representatives. All of these things are in God's hands, of course, but some are particularly solveable by Him alone, and so foremost, I always urge that people will get right with Him and keep pestering Him (otherwise known as "pray without ceasing").

But some of the things on the aforementioned scary list can be managed, made better by our own efforts and certainly by our attitude. We need to see some of these as projects and not problems.

For instance, if you are like me and two-thirds of Americans, whether or not you have been faithfully saving part of your paycheck each week, you've definitely been making regular deposits to your waist and hips. So I figure I have at least 50 lbs. to live off of before I get worried about starvation.

And if we cannot drive to the bread line we can walk! Build some muscle and cardio health in the bargain, though I'm sorry to offend anyone by kind of joking about it. Maybe, as well, the whole automobile-dependent, living in the suburbs thing has got to transition to something that makes more sense, like reclaiming the city neighborhoods. I'm older, but not ancient, and I can remember us living in smaller houses, closer together. I recall people walking to the store and church and taking the bus to work. Yes, it was hot in the summer before air-conditioning, but that meant that we'd be outside in the yard or on the porch, getting fresh air and God help us, talking face-to-face with other people!

If we find ourselves with less disposable income, we can begin to see opportunities to become resourceful and creative with what we do have. Anybody remember free stuff like the library or the park? How about walking to the library, borrowing a book and walking to the park to read it? Is that too mundane? I know I'm weird, but I get more entertainment and food for thought by walking down the street and noticing the people, the plants, the pets, the architecture, the smells, etc., than I ever would playing with tiny keypads and gazing at the mini and wide screens of the various entertainment options, made possible by technology and a paying subscription. Then again, I am becoming an old-hand at finding adventure in diminished circumstances.

The economic downturn came to live with us in 2005. My husband had almost lost his job entirely when the new contract came through and they eliminated his department. Thankfully, he was able to go to a different department, albeit with a 25% cut in pay. This occurred at about the same time a trust fund from my family dried up. There are only so many home improvements one can make, vacations one can take, or pizzas one can have delivered before the money goes away. Silly me. But wait, there's more!

On December 8, 2005, hubby came home from the bowling league, and because he was an overweight, smoking, pizza-eating office worker, laid down in the bed and started having an acid-reflux attack. All night long he was coughing and lurching his body off the bed, twisting around in a way that made three disks in his back go pop, pop, pop!!!

He has not worked since. We have five children and at that point, only the oldest was out of the house, the Air Force having taken over the job of getting him up in the morning. I was a Drama major in college, a really hot degree which I had successfully parlayed into a career of nursing babies, and doing dishes and laundry. So what I am saying is that the overhead was high and the income was (and is still) low. He gets a pension from being a retired military enlisted man, and he gets Social Security. I work as a seasonal scorer of standardized reading and writing assessments for state and federal projects. So things could be a lot worse; we are not out on the street and not penniless, but we definitely woke up from the American dream a little earlier than some folks. And my point is that we woke up from the dream, not to find we're in a nightmare, but just to...reality.

We don't have any savings to speak of, and we don't make any big-ticket or luxury purchases.
I cook and bake almost exclusively from scratch and use many other cost-saving strategies, and also hubby is very handy at fixing things or making things that we don't have to pay professionals for. Our biggest asset, however, is that we are hardly in debt at all. The only thing we owe is about 29K on our home mortgage. So my best advice for anyone wanting to survive and be happy, is get out of debt!!!

This is where you must become as courageous as the first wave that hit the beach at Normandy. I exaggerate for effect, of course, but you might feel as if you would need that much courage. You might have to cancel all your subscriptions, sell all the vehicles but one, ditch the electronics, keep only one light on in evenings which will end early, since you will all go to bed at a decent hour instead of lighting, gaming, surfing, and eating your way through the way-too-late night. This hurts, but maybe the kids could play kickball in front of the house or impromptu baseball or football in the free park with other kids instead of having them in the traveling show team. Or maybe you could play with them! You may have to work an extra job at McDonalds, take in a boarder, or clean houses and put that money exclusively on paying down your debt. You may have to do a lot of things, but one thing you MUST do is change your attitude and see this as a tremendous opportunity for growth, and wear your sacrifices and hard work like a badge of honor. Use the experience gained to feel real satisfied with yourself, while you pass on your skills and advice to others who ask for it.

You will find a tremendous rush, as I do, in doing for yourself, coming up with solutions and creating with your own hands or mind something new or beautiful or useful or all of these!

We all like to own things. I am all for that. But I do like to own and not babysit an item temporarily in my custody, hoping it will stay. That's what we do when we buy things on credit; we borrow someone else's cash, hoping to pay incredible interest and then the principal before the thing breaks or becomes obsolete.

Better not to have anything that you cannot pay for up front. Owe no man anything but the debt of love. Best yet to truly take ownership of the life that God has given you: the chance to be content with what you do have, to sleep unburdened by care and enjoy your own hand-hewn life.