Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I keep trying... clean up some old drafts I never finished so I can produce something readable this week, now that I'm back on-line and all, but I've not been very successful. I've been entertaining in-laws and adopting daughters instead.

Monday, July 25, 2011

It's a girl!

37 pounds
37 1/2 inches...

The adoption was today. We, her parents, are over the moon.

As for Lucia, she says she is, "so very happy!" She saw the judge, ate some cake, and jumped on a trampoline. It's a great big whalloping happy day.

Some joys are beyond expression, as any parent knows.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Marti's Fish Tacos

I made this for mom and dad today and it was enough of a hit that mom asked for the recipe. I decided to post it tonight since I saw in my blog stats that someone had looked up another fish recipe for dinner tonight.

This is such an easy dish, I can't imagine why I thought it was so hard to make. Thank you, Marti, for figuring this out!

Since I live in the landlocked Panhandle of Texas, I buy my fish frozen. The recipe calls for 7 cheap, thin fillets. I've tried tilapia and flounder, but any lightly flavored fish will do. Some variations I'm going to try soon are to add a dash of wine or balsamic vinegar in place of the lemon juice and to see if I can manage it with a catfish. I'll let you know how that goes!

Marti's Fish Tacos
5 to 7 frozen fillets of fish
1 onion chopped
1/2 bell pepper chopped
1 banana pepped chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 TBS ground cumin
1 TBS olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice (or lime)
1 tsp fresh cilantro, shredded
1 tsp each of chili powder, paprika, oregano
salt to taste
Taco shells (fills about 12 to 15) 

Heat oil in frying pan on medium heat until the oil runs freely when pan is moved. Coat the bottom of pan with oil. Place fish across pan evenly, then add vegetables and lemon juice. Stir occasionally. When the onions begin to sweat, add the spices. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking and to encourage fish to break apart. The dish is done when the fish is white and the onions are translucent.

Fill taco shells with fish and a shredded cheese like a mild cheddar or queso blanco, and fresh toppings like pico de gallo, lettuce and tomatoes, and salsa. Serves well with Spanish Rice and refried beans.

7 Quick Takes--Photography Edition

Jennifer Fulwiler
Thanks to Jennifer Fulwiler, a fellow Texan, for hosting
7 Quick Takes Friday 

1  - The picture on the header of my blog of the little bird in the branches was taken by a young man who read a book on photography and composition at the library and then began taking phenomenal photographs. He was kind enough to let me have this picture, one of his first. He's a minor, so I won't blast his name across so public a forum as a blog post, but I did want him to get credit where credit is due. You'll likely see more of his work when he is older. He's that good.

I chose this picture because it expressed my relationship with God fairly well. The light is breaking behind the bird, sort of sneaking up on it. I got clobbered from behind by the Light, so I really, really liked that aspect. There are plenty of buds, but little growth in the garden. The Spring is still early yet. The bird is nest building at this time of year, but has paused to focus Heavenward. My busy life is a lot like that. I try to stay focused on the higher things, but sometimes I can only manage a brief pause to glance upwards. The photo suited my needs on very many levels, and so now you know the story behind it, in case you ever wondered. 

scarlet Tulips
All rights reserved.

2 - I love photography, and portrait photography is one art forms I really love. I look at all the portraits, group and individual, when I am antiquing, and I especially enjoy having a record of my family in photographs. For this you can blame my grandmother. When I was a child she had a hallway that spanned the length of the house, dividing the bedrooms from the more public rooms. All along it was arranged a photographic chronology of the family. The first photos were of her and my grandfather's parents, next came their own wedding and family photos all the way down the century to the weddings and family photos of the grandchildren. I remember walking down the hall, studying the changes in hair and clothing, seeing the repetition of themes in smiles, cheekbones, and foreheads through the generations. I also remember laughing at my dad, not because he was a dork or anything, but because it was so hard to imagine him little like me. He's 6 foot and then some, and the idea of him being my size was simply ludicrous in those days. Still is.

All rights reserved.

3 - I have tried to document my own family like that, but haven't been able to pull it off every year. The very last time we went to a local family photo studio, not only did we not get a family portrait, the photographer made my autistic son cry. The other children did not cry but their individual photos captured their indignation at the photographer's treatment of their brother, so we were unable to use a single photo from that session. We still had to pay the sitting fee and I am outraged afresh every time that studio receives a local popularity based award--all I can say to that is that popularity does not always equate with quality.

All rights reserved.
4 - Simon is more than willing to smile for a photo, by the way. The last few months he has broadened his appreciation of being photographed to include wanting to join in the procedure more directly. When not monitored he will fiddle with various lenses and geegaws on a camera. We've been through three this year, so my little hobby of photography has been curtailed until he's learned better manners.

All rights reserved.
5 - In the pre-Facebook days, my mother documented my brother and I in 8 x 10 photos for her mother and father each year. We were an Air Force family and lived too far away for frequent visits, so she documented the changes via school photos and the USPS. I have a book of me, year to year, that she saved up. Does vanity explain why I am hooked on this art form?

All rights reserved.

6 - Although not all portraits, all the copyrighted photos on this post are Hannah Lou's, a friend of mine. I think she is amazing, so I am shamelessly plugging her work. Yes, she is a professional and yes, she is also available for hire. As you can see, Hannah Lou is like a snake charmer--she pulls the personality out of the subject and into the lens. I love her stuff.

All rights reserved.

7 - Hannah Lou is the reason I can rekindle my desire to document my family in photos again--we skipped several years, but are back to it. I just wanted to show her off a little and say thank you.
a sunset in July
All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Birthday...

Today was my husband's birthday and I managed to surprise him with a little party. The neighbor kids helped my kids make beautiful cards and put together a play, "The Little Billy Goats Gruff," while my neighbor and friend helped me learn how to grill. She's an expert.

Besides the play, the grilled chicken, a jello-jiggler birthday cake, and the cards, he received a new grill, a book, and a day in air conditioning from start to finish. We spent the day at the neighbor's house with a rocking cold a/c and tonight we are at my parent's house enjoying the gift of theirs. When we left our house today it had come back down to 97 degrees. The new house that will be moved in August will have central heat and air. Until then, we make do.

Right now, the man is asleep in 78 degree comfort. Happy birthday, honey.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

For Clara, because it is hard...

Heather Dorniden could have won without falling down first. If she had she'd still have been the best runner of that race, but few would have remembered the race. Few would have been inspired. What made this race remarkable is that she fell and she ran on anyway.

Faith is like that. The victories are sweeter when they are hard.

So, here we are, Clara, sprawled in the dust. How unexpected was all this?

It hurts, I know. But I also know how you will answer this call. You can not have your heart's desire because your heart has dreamed too small. Something bigger is required.

Get up, Clara. Win this race. She needs you so...

Saturday, July 16, 2011

We have a court date...

The adoption will be on July 25!

Wonder of wonders, she will be ours and we will be hers, by law as it is by love.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Shy or stuck up?

When I was 29 years old, I was at a teacher's conference when Charlotte, a good friend and colleague from my school, tugged on my sleeve and whispered in my ear, "You're feeling shy, but it's coming across as snotty. Just smile and say, 'Hi!'" This revelation about my shyness transformed my 30s and explained a lot of my troubles interacting up to that point. 

I was reminded of this turning point the other day. My daughter is a lot like Charlotte. She's usually a charmer and a social whiz, so I don't often have to put much motherly oversight into introductions, but we recently experienced a glitch when my daughter was meeting another girl for the first time. I was busily greeting the mother when I sensed tension. One look at the mix of anger and confusion on the new girl's face made me turn on my mother radar to check for bogies. My little girl's face revealed she was feeling a quirky and uncharacteristic surge of shyness. The other little girl was reacting to the shyness as if it were snobbishness. The wariness in my daughter's expression, an "I don't know if you will like me or if I should like you," was the understandable culprit. It really is a bit hard to tell the difference between shyness and snobbery sometimes, especially with younger girls.

Even when it is read correctly, a shy reaction to a friendly greeting can put people off. Getting to know an actively shy person is going to take some work and in this fast-paced world, people just don't have that kind of time to invest. I learned the skill of overcoming a natural shyness late in life by taking Charlotte's advice, asking for her input, and implementing it. Inwardly, I'm still shy, sometimes even scared in social settings, but I don't let those emotions get in the way. I've tried to teach my children how to meet, greet, and be greeted without letting their emotional ups and downs interfere with the process, too.

Here's what I know about my own battles with feeling shy.

  1. Everyone is shy. The ones who behave shyly are the only ones who get to wear the label. Shyness is merely a reaction to a social unknown. If you are feeling shy, chances are others around you are, too.
  2. Shyness is self-directed. You aren't thinking about other people when you are feeling shy as much as you are worried about how those people are thinking about you. The focus is on you and the longer you stay focused on yourself, the more shy you will feel.
  3. The equation 1 - 2 = -1 cures shyness. Understand #1 above. Take #2 away by focusing on something other than your own social tension, i.e. take yourself out of the equation! Focus instead on everyone else--concentrate on making everyone else feel at ease--and your outward focus will ease your inwardly focused shyness. Your mind is concentrating on something other than its own feelings and so you are not the center of your attention. You are no longer #1. You are, instead, out of the equation, or minus 1! Get it?
I don't know if that makes sense for you, but it works for me. It keeps me outwardly focused on others and not inwardly focused on my emotional state and helps me not behave as shyly as I feel. It helps others overcome their own feelings of shyness as they respond to my overtures of friendliness. I always remember to smile and say, "Hi!" first, then I try to ask a question or two to get the other person talking to further set them at ease. I overcome my innate shyness by giving myself a job to do socially: it is to listen and be interested, not to sit back and give in to my feelings of social awkwardness.

You never know how you are coming across when you are feeling shy, but a smile and being interested in others is almost always seen as friendly. When in doubt, treat others well. If it doesn't help the situation, it couldn't hurt it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The neverending saga...

...of me versus technology now involves a wayward satellite dish. If I'm not responding to you, it's not because I am suddenly snobbish, shy, or subdued. It's because I am once again off-line.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Parenting Fail: The Showering Edition

Momma enjoying her bathtime parade!

Today, while showering, I was reminded why I usually bathe. The instant the shampoo was in my hair and I was at the mercy of the water, four children suddenly and yet serially were struck with an irresistible urge to go. I yelled at the first one, pleaded with the second, yelled again at the third, and made a smart aleck comment that went completely over the fourth child's head. The fifth child flushed due to peer pressure. I couldn't blame him, really, and I was relatively friendly as he came traipsing in. "Yes, hi! Come on in and flush away, my boy! Yes, indeedy!" I really need to develop a better plan for disciplining while naked, scalded, and blinded by shampoo. The yell, plead, yell, surrender to sarcasm system has it's weaknesses.

I have failed away...
Parenting Fail: The Grammarian Edition
Ask a toddler to duck...
Parenting Fail: Time Out Edition

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Make love, not idols...

I am having a bad day, so I thought I might as well get into trouble with a blog post; let's talk sex! Wave the kiddies off from this one, folks. It's R-rated in the very first sentence, I'm warning you.

But first, for clarity's sake, my working definition of the word idol: an object, person, or thing that takes the place of the True God.

We are doing it wrong! 

When I was an unrepentant heathen I bought the contraceptive mentality that says sex is for entertainment then suffered being used as a means to an orgasm. I did my fair share of objectifying in those days, so don't think I'm playing the victim card here. I was merely a victim of my own stupidity and pointing out the "been there, done that" street cred on this point. Not that credibility is needed to see the point, but most people in our sex saturated culture are so lulled by the pretty blondes straddling the corvettes while hawking a Diet Pepsi that most of us do not even notice that women have became more objectified in our culture after the Sexual Revolution than they ever were before. (If you don't believe me, google the phrase "objectification of women" and enjoy yourself, and seriously, have you seen MTV in the last ten years or so?)

Now that I'm repentant, struggling against my social conditioning, and a little on the outside of the usual Christian circles by way of my Catholicism and by way of the place I converted from, I have a weird little insight I'd like to share. Our hedonistic culture and certain Christians/Catholics have the same idol--the male urge.

"What?!" thinks the average nonCatholic reader, "I thought only Catholics had idols!" 
"What?!" thinks the average Cafeteria Catholic, "I'm not interested in reading about anything that doesn't affirm me in my quest for..." <---that's as far as those folks are going to get before they drop off the radar by clicking off to another page in the endless search for the infallible evidence that they are indeed, the center of their own universe.
"What?!" thinks the average reader of this blog, "I don't get it yet, but at least it's not another recipe." 
"Interesting," thinks the average, open-to-life, NFPer. "I think I know where she's going with this one."<---please not that I am talking about a specific type of Natural Family Planning practitioner here. More on that later.
American Idol
The Male Urge Idol is not just worshiped in our post-Sexual Revolution Culture, but in the bedrooms of straight-laced, upright Christians. The idols are cast from the same mold, the contraceptive mentality, and both reduce a woman to her serviceableness. In other words, both mentalities reduce Woman to a tool.

Him, the Tool Man
Men compartmentalize their brains. It's how they work. In a 2009 National Geographic Daily News Article , researchers were shocked (shocked, I tell you) to find that men activate the "tool section" of their brains when seeing pictures of scantily clad women. They were further surprised (stunned and amazed) that the social sections of the brains were not also activated, stating that
 This means that these men see women "as sexually inviting, but they are not thinking about their minds," Fiske said. "The lack of activation in this social cognition area is really odd, because it hardly ever happens.
Do I need to mention that Fiske is a woman? Named Susan? Or did you guess that by the "hardly ever happens" line there? You could probably also guess that it hardly ever happens that I giggle while reading National Geographic articles, but it's even rarer for me to outright guffaw. It was fun, so I am not complaining. Just pointing out that it "hardly ever happens..."

Hold on a minute...
...while I take a brief sojourn into the daisy-petaled universe envisioned by science fiction? researchers wherein men behold women in beachwear and think rational, language-ladened thoughts such as, "Gosh, that bikini clad gal has a smokin' hot mind. I want to grasp her and wield her and name her Susan!"

I'm back now...thanks for the moment. Where were we?

Ah, the tool thing. Yes, well, men can forget all about the person in the bikini and the color of the bikini all while starting fixedly at the bikini. We women, on the other hand, are so relationship oriented that we can see a near-naked man on a car and wonder is that trunk is big enough for a trip to Costco and the grocery store because it would be nice not to have to pile the bulky stuff into the backseat, and wow that's smooth, did he shave his chest for this ad, do men get razor burn on their chests or would they wax, that's gotta hurt, you know this floor could use a coat of wax, but I really should strip it first and I don't have time for all of that with the kids out of school, so what happened to my resolution to do spring cleaning this year, oh I don't know anyway, when do I have the time for extras when I'm already so stressed and I really wish the kids would help out more and I bet that guy knows how to hit the hamper with his speedo unlike somebody who seems to think the floor is just fine for his dirty laundry but see if I care if that pile rots in the corner because I'm not picking it up this time. We forget that men don't make the connection between near naked people in advertising, laundry, and the next big spousal argument unless we women make it for them. They're funny like that.

While Fiske may be surprised that men see women as objects (tools), most other women and men on the planet are not. The evidence is all around us. What surprises a lot of unmarried people, and sadly, a lot of married people, is that mature men...don't. They've stopped the process in several ways. When it comes to his wife, he has learned to love her, the entirety of her and not just the parts of her, even when he is making love to her, and his mind becomes just as eagerly involved in the sexual union as his body does, making the act a uniting of two persons and not just the interlocking of two well-fitted parts. What I'm describing is the mind-blowing sex described in Theology of the Body (if you have a few hundred years or so) and other places (look here, too) that is the ultimate result of a committed, marital relationship, and a bonding hormone called oxytocin. Men produce oxytocin much later in a relationship than a woman does, if he has not lost the capacity to produce it through actions that sustain a state of perpetual adolescence such as  masturbation, porn addiction, or promiscuity before and after marriage.

So now this is where the Christians come in, and this is where people are going to get mad at me. We think we have sex safely corralled into marriage. Give a man enough sex and he won't sin sexually. We women shall be open and available at all times and smile nicely and even if we are not in the mood, we'll get there eventually, or maybe next time. Use it or lose it, ladies. C'mon now, hop into bed anytime he asks and you both will be fulfilled.

Except for one little detail. No one should be used by another, and this sounds dangerously close to the "tool man" mentality we were laughing about a few minutes ago.

I'm not laughing now because encouraging your husband to sin is serious. Take me seriously for a minute. Look at those rare and unmentionable feelings you may have had once or twice of disappointment and unease after a romp, if you've ever had them, and wonder for just a moment if maybe it was because you may have felt a little used? You are not alone if you've occasionally been left alone on a pillow moments afterwards without even a kiss. It happens sometimes. That's when it is obvious and that's when a talk that starts out, "Hey, honey, you know last night when...well..." can usually fix it.

What's harder to fix are the subtler manifestations of tool use. When he asks you to risk the cancers and blood clots of oral contraception because it is easier to risk your health than to deny himself sex on the three nights of the month that you are fertile. Learning NFP is such a bother anyway and who cares if it works if I'm horny right this moment and you insist on being fertile.

Or the flip side...

...could look an awful lot like being open to life and accepting the babies that God gives you, experiencing the joys of a large family. That all sounds great, even pious, but not if he forgets to mature in his manhood. In some married Christian men, this type of rhetoric is not so much about openness to life and God's Providence as it is a lack of a desire to control sexual urges long enough to be appropriate. Some men won't even wait to get home first. Fundamentally is there a difference between a good Christian husband or a Neopagan hedonistic husband who asks his wife to have sex in her mom's bathroom during a big family Thanksgiving Dinner? That's a true story and since it will illustrate my point about making an idol out of sexual urges, I'm not telling you if it was a Christian or a Neopagan wife who shared it with me. I'll just let you ponder on it awhile.

Continue pondering while I stretch the story out of truth and into rhetorical fiction and change the time frame from a few hours of waiting to 72 hours during a weekend trip. Still obviously a case of tool use, right? Although there is a bit less of the hedonist showing in the Christian man's demeanor. Well, how about handing the wife a pregnancy induced heart attack with her last two children? Let's change that 72 hours from a weekend trip crowded with family who are going to know the couple just coupled to 72 hours of fertility a month. Can you see the tool use behind a husband insisting that sex is his prerogative even if her life is at risk. Can you see how his urge just might be his idol in that situation? Granted, he still may be coming at it from a purely saintly perspective of "trusting God with his sexuality" and with his wife's life, but I'm thinking such cases must be rare given the general state of humankind in the last few millennia.

Since this post is way longer than a blog post is supposed to be, how about we make a deal: if  I concede the point that the male urge to sex is sometimes given by God, will you concede my point that sometimes it isn't? Our emotions are a part of the symphony that make up human existence. Sometimes they are tied to biology, as in the case of oxytocin bonding a couple to each other and to their child, sometimes they are tied to a desire to love and serve the family by growing it, and sometimes they are tied to human frailty. As many Christian/Catholic men are weak and sinful as the nonChristian men. Women, too. I've said it in as many ways as possible, the only real difference between a Christian and a nonChristian is Christ. We Christians seek to be forgiven our shortcomings and frailties through Christ. We try not to pretend they don't exist.

Let's not pretend that this idol does not exist in our culture either. Even the Christian culture. Instead, let us put God on the throne of our lives, and let He who gave us Free Will remind us that we are not meant to be a slave to anything, even a God-given impulse to procreate. We serve God, not our passions.

In the economy of God, Woman is the pinnacle of creation and as such, she is the servant of the Man. Jesus was the Perfect Man and served the world, so of course a wife is to honor a husband and be submissive. In  his way of reflecting Jesus, a husband is to lay his life down for her and sacrifice himself as Christ sacrificed Himself for the Church so that he can present his bride holy and unblemished before God (If this isn't sounding familiar it's the bit in Ephesians 5 that is after the "wives be subordinate to your husbands"). That doesn't sound like the type of man who won't make himself wait a few hours for sex or even a  few days. Nor does she sound like the type of creature who is to be reduced to nothing more than a glorified bodily fluid receptacle. If you read all the way to the end of Ephesians 5, you see some wonderful imagery. Just imagine! A wife is a treasure you will present to God and so she should be the best gift you have to offer. You might want to start thinking of her in those terms--a cherished gift you have both received and will give.

She is not a tool to be used. She is a treasure. Put her in the treasury of your heart and you will never find her again in the toolbox of your mind.

And wives? If he begins to treasure you, be a treasure and be treasured. It's nice.