How A Liberal Education Can Continue Even When You Are the Mother of Small Children: Part One Prayer

I remember how it was my first year out of college; I had just gotten married and had my first child before that first year was up. I was thrilled to read whatever I wanted to read and claimed pregnant brain whenever my husband tried to bring me into an intellectual discussion. I confess that I was jealous for about two days when he went back to school for graduate work in the fall and I was at home with morning sickness. After G. was born and the realities of parenting hit me, I really started to miss my old intellectual life of graduate school, studying in the library, going out after dinner, etc. While I was a pregnant, we continued to go to daily Mass, go to Eucharistic Adoration, frequent confession, and had a full prayer life; similar to college. When I was stuck at home without a car and a newborn on my lap, none of this seemed possible. But, as my loving husband always does, he pointed out to me the ways I was unhappy and the ways I could become better, and I realized I needed to make a change.
I decided to sacrifice ten minutes of nap time for doing whatever I did during nap time for prayer time. I discovered that God can hear me even if I don’t go to Adoration in His Real Presence. Because, get this, while the Eucharist is amazing, wonderful, and so necessary for the Sacramental life, we still have Jesus in our hearts where ever we go. And He is in our children, and our husbands. He is also everywhere, and God holds us in existence moment to moment, constantly sustaining us. During my prayer time I read Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis De Sales. It is such a practical prayer book, divided into short but pungent sections that teach you how to pray always and takes into account every state in life. While I do not follow the advice to wake up and pray for an hour before the household is awake, I have taken up many of the smaller less time consuming ways to pray and be mindful of God throughout my day. Now I no longer use nap time, but just after the kids bedtime, and get this, my husband and I take this time together. Also we try to have one of us go to Adoration every week, so that we each get to go every other week. When you spend the whole day with little kids, the solace of Eucharistic Adoration is pretty amazing.
Another thing I resumed after my first child was several months old, was to make daily Mass a priority. My first reason was that she was up before 8 am everyday, so why not go to Mass? When my second was born and I was not physically capable of going daily, I remember how I felt the graces of all the Masses I had gone to before I have birth sustaining me day to day. And now thinking about it, my reason is not because the kids are up, but because it is God I encounter at Mass every morning (when I get myself up to go) and it is totally worth it to wake up 45 minutes before my kids so that I can take them to Mass most days to experience Christ’s sacrifice extending throughout time and space to the very altar in our church.
The third thing I have been able to do even while having little kids is frequent Confession. St. Francis De Sales recommends weekly confession, and some weeks I wish I did. My husband and I aim for every two weeks; we make this work by going to different churches’ Saturday confession times that are different by 30 minutes. He goes to one church’s scheduled confession time, and when he gets home I have just enough time to get to the other one early. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is by far the best way to learn where you can be better in day to day life, and where you fail to be the best wife, mom, friend, daughter, sister, etc. you can be. This Sacrament is such a gift! In this Sacrament, we can know our failings, be forgiven for them (wiped clean!), and then be given the grace to become holier! What more can a woman want?
The point of this essay is to show how stay at home mothers do not have to give up ate daily Sacramental life of the Church; they just have to discover how to fit it into the new life that is quite different from the liberal arts educational experience.
Next week: Part Two The Intellectual Life

On Media and It’s Proper Consumption

I wrote this post about living as a Catholic in the world. In it I discussed different forms of media and how to consume them. If you want to know about my understanding of what is proper to consume and reasons for consuming them you should read that post. I would like to readdress the issue here.

What is media? Wikipedia says that media is “tools used to store and deliver information or data”. Now these tools come in a variety of forms. There is advertising media, broadcast media, digital media, hypermedia, mass media, multimedia, print media, recording media, social media, etc.

Here is the way one should approach these various forms of media.

Advertising Media– This should be avoided at all costs. Never watch commercials, label all facebook ads as offensive, turn off the radio (if you still listen to that), when using a site such as hulu make sure to have another tab open and the volume controls at hand to avoid such things. Also, throw out all flyers and ads that you receive in the mail. Close your eyes when you see a billboard. When surfing the net, do not let yourself get distracted by the advertisements. Never believe a thing you here in this form of media and never let your self be persuaded, unless you really need that cup of coffee on the screen or can’t wait to try that new restaurant. This is the proper way to consume this form of media.

Broadcast Media– Generally this form of media is consumed by watching and listening or just listening depending on the medium you have chosen. As to how much, that is your decision. As to what to consume; only that which is worthy of consumption. One can never be to careful when choosing what to consume in this form of media.

Digital Media-Well, there is just too much to say about what you can consume and how much you can consume of this type of media. I am not even going to touch this. See the other forms to media to get a clear understanding of how to approach this media.

Mass Media-Internet, radio, newspapers, television, etc. This is what makes the world so small these days.

Multimedia-The only way to understand this form of media is to experience a multimedia event. Now I hope you understand what this form of media is and how to approach it.

Print Media– Once upon a time people printed words on paper and turned pages. This form of media is still commonly used. Unfortunately, even though this form of media is combustible, many things that should be set alight still remain intact (and you know what I mean, you see them at the checkout line of your grocery store as well as really bad fiction). Only read that which is worth reading and read often and you will be better for it.

Recording Media– I am not sure I want to get into this either. There is much in this media worth listening, too, but much of it you probably should where ear plugs if you are within a few miles of it.

Social Media– You use this daily, if you are like me. On word: Moderation.

Now by consumption I do not mean ingestion. I hope you are all aware of that. Using your eyes and ears is generally the best way to consume media, and not using them is the best way to avoid it. But just remember that what comes in your eyes and ears, stays in your mind and changes you, forms you, and influences who you are. Don’t let what you consume, or the fact that you currently are consuming turn you into meany-head or a social recluse or simply neglect your duties.

I hope I have enlightened you on media and it’s proper consumption.

40 Dinners Without Meat

I do not want this to turn into a cooking blog, but my sister asked me to let her know of any good meatless dinners I come across as I make meatless dinners this Lent and I thought I’d share them here. I am not going to post every recipe, but give the basics of the dinner I made and if you want the recipe email or comment and I will do my best to get it to you in a timely manner.

I actually do not have 40 meals total, since many nights ended up with leftovers and we may or may not have eaten at home every night:

1. Ash Wednesday-Lentil Soup, bread, and a green salad-the soup had carrots, lentils, onions, tomatoes, vegetable stock broth, and some sherry. Very penitential and much tastier if served with swiss. We had a green salad every day with spinach to keep iron in our diet.

2. Bean Burritos and a green salad-not very creative but easy if you buy the canned beans.

3. Garden Minestrone, homemade freezer biscuits, and a green salad-A minestrone with spinach and zucchini among other veggies and lots of beans! It was so full of protein I did not even miss not having meat! And these biscuits are great! I usually make a double recipe, and you freeze them and pull out and bake as many as you need! Each adult is usually satisfied with just one; since they are as hearty as the kind you can buy at the grocery store from a can or frozen.

4. Channa Masala, white rice, freezer biscuits, and a green salad-Masala is a combination of spices used in Indian food; in addition to garam masala, this dish also contained cumin, turmeric, and coriander cooked with butter and onions and added to a base of chick peas an chicken stock (I used vegetable stock in the Lenten version). This is served over rice. It could be used as a main dish or side depending on what kind of meal you are going for.

5. Pesto Pizza with Tomatoes and Spinach (and garlic for the husband) and a green salad-I buy the pre-made pesto from the olive bar at Wegmans since I only need about $1 worth of it and pesto takes time and energy and basil that I usually do not have while making pizza. I have a wonderful bread-maker pizza dough which I spread with pesto and then add the toppings. Mark wanted whole garlic cloves on his pizza, so he had his own half. I used mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. I think it turns out restaurant quality–if only we had a better oven!

6. Falafel, Pitas, Hummus, and a green salad– I confess that I use a mix for my falafel, grinding soaked but not cooked beans into tiny bits in the blender is not my cup of tea (Hence why I need a food processor). But the mix I found is amazing and just the right amount of spiciness. I do fry my own falafel and sometimes make my own pitas. This time I bought pitas and hummus. The falafel is to be eaten in pita pockets (or rolled up in one) with hummus and other sides. I like to mix garlic powder with sour cream. Pickles are particularly appetizing in this wrap or just plain old cucumber.

7. Spinach Lasagna Roll-ups, biscuits, and green salad-A recipe from my wonderful mother made with cottage cheese, mozzarella, parmesan, cooked spinach, and nutmeg all rolled up in cooked lasagna noodles and baked in marinara sauce. Yum yum yummy!

8. Fish Sticks, Oven-Fried potato chips, and green salad-Frozen store bought fish sticks, easy! The potatos take time; peel, slice super thin, rinse, pat dry, toss in oil and spices, bake for about 20 min. We needed two tray-fulls. I kept them warm in the toaster oven while the fish cooked.

9. French Toast and Baked Apples-Breakfast for dinner! But it was soooo good. Baked apples are so easy; peel, chop, cover in juice, sugar, and butter and bake!

10. Oven-Roasted Chickpeas, Pasta with butter, garlic, and parmesan, green salad– We have had this one a lot before; it is pretty easy and if you cook the chickpeas in oil and garli long enough they are crispy and flavorful. This meal is an attempt to get protein and iron into the lenten meals.

11. Annunciation Dinner- Fish Sticks, Skoralia, and green salad- A traditional Annunciation dinner consists of dried salt cod battered and fried (hence the fish sticks) and mashed potatoes with olive oil, lemon juice, and scallions (instead of milk and butter). They were delicious and I was told to make them again.

12. Vegetarian Steamed Dumplings, green salad, biscuits- My first experience of cooking with tofu, and I think I will again. It takes on the flavor of what you cook with. These were chopped vegetables, tofu, hoisin and soy sauces wrapped in wonton wrappers and steamed. The steaming was incredibly easy, but the preparation took a lot of time. I had leftover filling, that I put in a frying pan with butter, frying it for a few minutes and then added some beaten eggs. This was also delicious!

13. Tilapia with lemon butter, oven-fried potato chips, and green salad– I sprayed the tilapia with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper and cooked it at 500°F for 7 minutes. The potato chips were the same as above. This is a really tasty and easy way to cook fish fillets!

14. Macaroni and Cheese, green salad, steamed broccoli-Your standard Macaroni and Cheese made with monterary jack and chedder cheeses, thickened in a flour, butter, and milk sauce and baked until the au gratin of crushed rice krispies and melted butter browned. I used to make real bread crumbs, but I like the crunchy toppings better. This recipe was enough for two dinners! 🙂

15. Lentil-Barley Stew (which actually was Great Northern Bean-Brown Rice stew), biscuits, and green salad– I was going to make the stew with lentils and rice, when I discovered that I had no lentils. After a quick panicked call to my sister while the celery and onions were already cooking in butter, we decided my beans would be a good substitute and they were! Mark liked it a lot, and he is not a big fan of rice or white beans. This also had tomatoes and shredded carrots.

16. Cheese and Spinach Quiche and green saladHomemade pie crust, and quiche filling. I did not whip the eggs enough; but deflated quiche still tastes like quiche. I will make this again and do it properly. I used to not like swiss cheese, but lately I have discovered that I like it in other things such as reubens, lentil soup and quiche. The next thing I want to try it in is French Onion Soup.

17. Garden Minestrone in bread bowls and green salad-I made the bread bowl dough in my bread maker. I am not satisfied with the bread we get in our bread maker. It is always way drier and not as soft as I would like it to be even when I add an egg with the water measurements. Not sure what to do here. The soup was saved in the freezer from when I made it earlier.

18. Tilapia seasoned with dill, boiled and seasoned potatoes, green salad, green beans- I cooked the tilapia the same way as above, except added dill to the spices. The potatoes were small red potatoes boiled with the skin on; after draining I heated them in melted butter and added salt and pepper and dill “to taste.” I am actually having cravings for fish (at least the plain white ones); which is either a sign that I have gone insane, need more protein in my life, or am becoming more like my husband and less like my father (who hates all seafood). This meal was so pretty on my plate I should have taken a picture. It was also very yummy!

19. Minestrone soup, homemade bread, and green salad- This was a soup I made a few months back and froze the extras. It is a recipe I got from my mother, with shredded cabbage, carrots, celery, tomatoes, beef stock base, kidney and navy beans, peas, green beans, and macaroni noodles. This soup makes you feel healthy while you eat it. And it is best served with freshly shredded parmesan.

20. Stir-fry vegetabes in teriyaki sauce, rice, biscuits, green salad– This was a lot of fun to make, steaming broccoli, chopping mushrooms, carrots, green onions and prepping snow peas; stir-frying them all together and finishing them off with a bit of teriyaki sauce. Served them over rice with extra sauce. It was yum!

Meals I have not made yet this Lent but plan too:

21. Syrian Lentils on Pasta– I have made this before. Lentils, onions, tomatoes, and cumin cooked and in a medium thick sauce over pasta.

22. Anchovy Pizza and Tomato and Spinach Pizza– My husband likes anchovy pizza. Don’t ask me why. It comes in little cans in oil, near tuna, in the grocery store. I will make this with a red sauce and use my yummy breadmaker dough. I will not eat the anchovies… G. might.

23. Two Bean Tamale Pie-I have not made this before, but it has tomatoes, beans, spices in the bottom half and a crust on top consisting of cornmeal, cheese and milk. I am excited to try it.

24. Alfredo Sauce and Broccoli on Pasta– There is a dish common in St. Louis called Pasta con Broccoli. I found a recipe online that we could barely eat it was so rich. So this alfredo sauce looks less rich, but just as creamy. I am going to give it a shot. We will see.

That is all I have planned and done so far. I need a few more recipes to get us through the rest of Lent. I have done a few repeats and we have done a few Friday Fish Fries. That is why you don’t get 40.

A Song for Mothers (and everybody!)

“Nothing Without You” by Bebo Norman is a song that I have always felt drawn to and it has applied to my life differently throughout my life. I heard it today, and it really spoke to me about the mother and wife I am called to be. You can watch the video below that has the lyrics, but I will also post them below and write about how they affected me.

Take these hands and lift them up
For I have not the strength to praise You near enough
See I have nothing, I have nothing without You

I have always thought of raising hands in praise when I heard these lines, but today I thought of how I use my hands. What I do with my hands is also a way to praise God, and the love I have when using my hands can offer my activities to him.

Everything a mother does for her family involves her hands; praying, holding, changing diapers, dressing, washing children, washing dishes, cleaning the home, etc. But a mother and wife does not have the strength to do all of this without God’s love and grace, and it can wear her down and make her unhappy. God will keep a mother strong.

Take my voice and pour it out
Let it sing the songs of mercy I have found
For I have nothing, I have nothing without You

I can sing songs of praise to God and tell others of his love and mercy, but what I say to others, how I say it to others, what I say about others reflects this even more. The way a wife speaks to her husband, the way she asks him to do something, what she chooses to say first thing in the morning or when he walks in the door from work all are an offering to God and all can bring more love or hurt to the home. The way a mother speaks to her children when they misbehave or do good acts or simply get into trouble all bring glory to God or not. If I am unkind in the way I speak, my voice is not bringing God glory, but if I have patience and kindness in my voice even when reprimanding this is an act of love.

All my soul needs
Is all Your love to cover me
So all the world will see
That I have nothing without You

A wife and mother needs to be covered in the love of God in order to live out what she is called to do. My mother prayed for me yesterday that God’s love would overflow out of me into the way I loved my children; I think this chorus reflects that idea. And when we pour love into our family, the world does see, and the world is given hope.

Take my body and build it up
May it be broken as an offering of love
For I have nothing, I have nothing without You

I think this speaks the most to me as a wife and mother; the daily grind really involves the whole body. And for children, a mother’s body really is broken as an offering of love; in this way we reflect Christ. It is done to a mother when she accepts the call to be one throughout pregnancy, the pains of labor, the giving birth, and then her choices to breastfeed, and nurture her children through naps, bedtimes, feedings, and play times. But still she has nothing without God and his mercy and love.

I also love the line asking God to build up one’s body; it shows the glory that God gives to nature and the beauty in our bodies despite our falleness.

All my soul needs
Is all Your love to cover me
So all the world will see
That I have nothing
But I love You

With all my heart
With all my soul
With all my mind
With all the strength that I can find

And here we remember that our actions are rooted in our heart, soul, and mind. Our actions affect them and they affect our actions. We need God to help us love and serve. And we need to take time for prayer, for praying asks God for His grace, praises him, and keeps Him foremost in one’s heart, mind, and soul throughout the day. I am always happier when I remember to pray while doing mundane tasks like putting the kids down for naps and cooking and washing.

“With all my mind.” I particularly need to spend my time doing things that will help me think about good things, and loving things. What I do during my free time stays in my mind and affects my heart and my soul and my actions. I know I personally want to use my mind for more than taking care of children; and struggle for the discipline to discipline my mind.

Take my time here on this earth
And let it glorify all that You are worth
For I am nothing,
I am nothing without You

I am nothing without God, and my time on earth is for Him. And as a wife and mother, I also am called to help my husband and children glorify God with their lives as well.

The Examined Life

Between Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain, St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life, Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla: A Woman’s Life by Giuliana Pelluchi, and Space Vulture by Gary K. Wolf and Archbishop John J. Myers, I have had time to reflect on sainthood and the call every person has to it.

Merton reflected that every person is different, yet we are all called to be like God, and when we become holy we become like God; each individual person reflects God in a different way. We can all become super holy, be like God, but also be entirely different from each other! Which makes a lot of sense when you look at the variety of saints we have out there. Though they all have in common, a strong love of God and others and a life of prayer with loyalty to the Church and her teaching.

So, what can we learn from all these Saints. When I think about Saints, I often look at the seemingly glamorous things they did, by glamorous I mean attractive because they were super holy and beyond what the average person does, i.e. stigmata, martyrdom, extreme poverty. Then I think, wow my life is pretty boring and slow-paced compared to that, there is no way I could become a Saint. Plus, I fail at living up to my calling everyday; I sometimes think the only way I could be super holy is to experience extreme persecution or start having super mystical experiences. Seriously, that is the stuff you here about in the lives of the Saints that inspires you. When you read the little bio in the breviary or missal, you generally ignore the “she lived a really holy life” and skip straight to the she had her breasts cut off and they grew back and then she was martyred. But if you think about it it really was the holy life before these great acts of holiness that made them a Saint. St. Gianna already lived a saintly life before she gave up her life for her child. Thomas Merton had potential to become a Saint in his striving to become holy day by day and eliminating his tendencies to sin. Space Vulture could have become good if he turned from his mortal sins.

St. Francis de Sales lays out the framework for holiness in his book. He explains that to be holy one has to live an examined life–every detail surrounding sin must be explored and weeded out. It is a tedious process, and it is difficult, but with grace we all can become saints. It is the daily choice all saints make to pray, to love God and others, to grow in virtue, to embrace one’s state in life.

I feel very fortunate that my desire to be a wife and mother has been fulfilled so early in life, and now I am realizing that it is a day by day choice to love and serve. By doing this and by seeking God’s grace in all I do and allowing him to work through me; that is how I will become a saint. Pray for me.

On Living the Catholic Life in the World

Sorry it has been so long. Big changes have happened in my life. The baby was born and it has been a very long transition.

M., G., and I spent the last few weeks traveling around the Midwest to see family, and long car trips make for good conversation as long as the baby is not crying. While we discussed, I started to see more clearly the life I am called to live in the world. Last year I posted about living simply because of our own limited resources, but I am starting to see that the life we have chosen is truly Catholic and even if we had all the money in the world we would still choose to live the way we do—though we might spend more money on food so we could eat finer meals.

The question is, what does it mean to be Catholic in the world today and how does one best live in the world but not conform to the world. “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2) It is hard to find the balance between the extremes of entire worldliness and a puritanical lifestyle. For example, I could look at how some people indulge in drinking to extreme drunkenness and lose a sense of the goodness of alcohol. There seems to be goodness in the creature of alcohol that not many people have a sense of in modern America (or even Europe). They drink what M. and I have referred to as “beer substitutes,” which are more like water than beer. And they call it drinking… They also abuse alcohol in other ways by simply drinking too much. I have found that drinking good drinks is enjoyable. It is nice to have at the end of the day, or in the evening with dinner. God made it good, and it can lead us to God. Thus, it would be wrong to entirely reject it. I know some of you are laughing at me now remembering my former views on drinking, and I thank you for helping me come to a better understanding.

Another example of what I am trying to express is the modern understanding of reading. A while ago C. sent me an article about kid’s books about bodily functions to simply get kids to read. It showed me that there is a huge focus on getting kids to read. It does not matter what they read as long as they read. Is there virtue to simply reading no matter what it is? I spent much of my childhood reading books like the Baby-sitter’s club, but I wonder if I would have spent my time just as well playing video games and watching cartoons on television. It does matter what you read. Reading should be for the sake of forming one’s character, leading one to grow in virtue. The great books that are remembered teach people about life and what it means to live well. However, it is not easy to choose to read something that will form character. It is much easier to read a blockbuster novel than something like Les Miserables, but I am certain that Jean Valjean can teach me much more about virtue than whoever is in the other book.

So, what does it mean to live as a Catholic in the world. I am seeking to live a truly sacramental life. This means I must give up certain things the world sees as normal, but not live to such an extreme that others cannot relate to me. I want to live in such a way that leads others to God and makes them wonder what they are missing. One thing I am thankful that I live without is a television. For a year now I have lived without a television in my home, and I do not miss it at all. Whenever I am around television, I am disgusted at the content of the shows and the consumerism present in the commercials. There are certain things I might miss, like speeches and news, but these things I can find on the Internet as well. M. and I will kill your television for you if you would like. While I was pregnant we got in the habit of watching a movie almost every week, and after G. was born we started looking at our movie watching habits, realizing that our reasons for watching them were more and more out of laziness and less and less out of a desire to see a certain good movie. My philosophy of movie watching is similar to that of book-reading. If it is no good and does not lead me closer to God, then it is not worth watching. So we decided to limit our movie watching, and hope that by limiting it to a certain number a month, we can be virtuous in our choice of movie and find the ones worth watching.

Another thing to be careful about is the use of the Internet. It is so easy to get sucked into it and waste time on things that are stupid (such as reading my blog…lol…but seriously I hope this blog does some good for somebody even if it is just me). I know this is a place I need to grow, so I am seeking to become virtuous in my use of the Internet, such as blogging on important things…and using facebook well (is that possible?).

Living a Catholic life in the world calls for finding the good and truth in society, accepting it and allowing it to bring one closer to God, and being careful not to get caught up in the evil in the world. It is an extreme way to live, but it seems to be the right way to live. I know I have not touched on every aspect of life, but this is just the beginning…