Wednesday, September 2, 2020

An Open Book: September 2020

Back in May, I read Joseph Pearce's article about Dean Koontz. While Pearce is not a fan of current fiction, and that is what I prefer, I did agree whole heartedly with his attitude about what we read in general.

We only have so many years allotted to us and we know that we will die with a long list of unread books, which would have nourished us had we read them. We need to be selective.

A book that was recommended to Pearce was Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas, the favorite of the author's.  Remembering an interview I saw with Koontz on EWTN a number of years ago, I decided it was time to give this author a try and start with his favorite.

Odd Thomas is not only the name of the book, but also is the main character's real name.  How he came to be named Odd is up for debate, but he does manage to live up to it.  Odd is a short-order cook in a small dessert town, Pico Mundo, from which he has never traveled very far.  He also sees spirits.  They don't talk to him, but still manage to engage his help.  When a stranger comes to town, he is accompanied by dark, hyena shaped shadows, which seem to feed off of fear and evil.   Odd races against time to thwart an evil that threatens his small town.

Dean Koontz's has an engaging and challenging writing style which sent me to the dictionary on more than one occasion.  His Catholic faith is quietly present in the story.

Most people desperately desire to believe that they are part of a great mystery, that Creation is a work of grace and glory, not merely the result of random forces colliding. Yet each time that they are given but one reason to doubt, a worm in the apple of the heart makes them turn away from a thousand proofs of the miraculous, whereupon they have a drunkard’s thirst for cynicism, and they feed upon despair as a starving man upon a loaf of bread.

I am an optimist about our species. I assume God is, too, for otherwise He would have scrubbed us off the planet a long time ago and would have started over.

A wonderful poet, now all but forgotten because modern universities teach nothing but self-esteem and toe-sucking.

Head on over to Carolyn's for more An Open Book.


Wednesday, April 1, 2020

An Open Book: April 2020

I have been reading a lot, even before all of "this" hit, and now since I am not driving into work everyday I suddenly have an extra hour or so to fill.  Thankfully, with my Kindle in hand, that hasn't been hard to do.  What has been even better is finding authors I enjoy that have good, interesting, clean stories with characters that are real.  These are just two of my favorites.

In The Life I Dreamed by Kari Burke, Emmy O’Brien is stressed out.  Stay at home mother to four young children, she is overwhelmed by hours chores, child raising, and trying to manage a meager household budget.  When her husband insists on helping a sixteen year old young women in their church's youth group, she is at her breaking point.  Grudgingly she helps and finds her heart changed as a result.

In A Channel of Your Peace  Erin Rafferty thought she knew how her life was going to go.  Engaged to her fiancĂ© for a number of years, she figured a wedding was in her future.  That is until he came home one day to tell her that he was in love with someone else and that he was leaving her.  Devastated, she returns to her parents house to pick up the pieces.  A chance encounter with Mark is the start of a friendship that could lead to something more.  Both Erin and Mark, though, have pasts that they must deal with in order to build a future.  This was an enjoyable and captivating read which has me hoping that author Veronica Smallhorn has more books in her writing future.

Head on over to Carolyn's for more An Open Book.


Monday, March 16, 2020

What will we sacrifice?

I had so many plans.  A vacation to Florida.  The local GK Chesterton conference.  Training for work out in Washington state.  Events at church and the start of baseball season.  Dinner out with a friend.  March was going to be busy.

Exactly one of those happened.  Everything else has been either cancelled or put on hold.

Right now it all seems like a grand overreaction to me.  Perhaps only time will tell if it is or not.  But, at the moment it is all a bit disconcerting.

Schools are closed along with restaurants and bars, libraries and museums.  Sporting events and other entertainment venues have been shuttered.  Only six people showed up in the office this morning.  The rest are working from home.

On the drive in to work early this morning, stores that are normally empty at that time of day were teeming with activity.  People are hording toilet paper and milk and soup.

I reminds me vaguely of the days after 9/11.  Things were quiet.  No planes were in the air and few people went to work or school.  There was a definite uneasiness.

The one vivid memory I have of that day was showing up at church for daily mass in the evening.  During the week, that mass was held in the chapel.  When Tim and I arrived, it was standing room only inside and there was a line out the door.  I popped into the sacristy to let Father know of the situation.  We subsequently moved into the church and prayed, together.

When we went to Sunday mass yesterday, there was maybe a third of the usual attendance.  I think that is what disturbs me most about this illness and uncertainty.  It has us scattered and isolated.  It makes many afraid to be part of a community. 

People say it is only temporary, however I think some of these changes will be lasting.  After all, we gave a little bit of our freedom away after 9/11 in the name of security.  What will we sacrifice this time?


Sunday, February 9, 2020

Soup on Sundays: French Onion

A number of years ago a friend took us out to dinner at a local French restaurant.  It is located in a small house in a cute shopping district.  From the outside, the restaurant didn't look like much, but we are still talking about that meal.

I was too chicken to order the frog legs or Escargot, but Tim had both and said that they were delicious.  I decided to start with the French Onion soup, and when I placed my order I asked the waiter if they used beef or veal broth.  The look on his face was one of horror.  I was told that they made their soup the traditional way, with water.  I don't think I am exaggerating when I say that was the best, by far, French Onion soup that I ever had.

When I decided to try my hand at making it, I searched for a long time to find a traditional recipe.  You know how many "traditional" French Onion soups use beef broth?  Most of them.  It wasn't until I came across Michael Ruhlman's version that I finally found what I was looking for.

I made a couple of changes this last time I made it and it turned out terrific.  I didn't have sherry or an open bottle of wine, so I skipped both and just used red wine vinegar instead.  I hate fighting with a bowl size piece of bread in my soup, so I put made large croutons and used those along with the cheese I had on hand, an Irish cheddar.  Yum!

The big secret to this soup, though, is time.  To get the dark, sweet caramelization of the onions, it is going to a couple of hours of slow cooking.


Traditional French Onion Soup

1 tablespoon butter
7 or 8 Spanish onions, thinly sliced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Large croutons
Red wine vinegar
1/2 to 3/4 pound grated

In a large pot over medium heat melt the butter.  Add the onions, sprinkle with 2 teaspoons salt, cover, and cook until the onions have heated through and started to steam.  Uncover, reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally.  Season with several grinds of pepper.

When the onions have completely cooked down, the water has cooked off, and the onions have turned amber, add 6 cups of water.  Raise the heat to high and bring the soup to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low.  Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. If the soup is too sweet, add some vinegar.

Portion the soup into bowls, float the bread on top, cover with the cheese, and broil/grill until the cheese is melted and nicely browned.  Serve immediately.


Friday, February 7, 2020

Living Big and Saying Goodbye

A week ago today we celebrated the funeral mass of my cousin (by marriage).  Denise was only 52 years old and left behind six children.   To say that it was difficult is an understatement.

I had seen her just after Christmas and we chatted about my niece, her kids, and the sorrow we both felt at losing our dogs during the previous year.  I had no idea that she was ill.  A couple weeks later she was admitted to the hospital and never left.  Liver failure claimed her life.

The stories and testaments to her life flooded Facebook.  Her greatest joy was her children.  She reveled in their accomplishments, suffered with them in their pain, and sought to teach them to be responsible, caring individuals.  When the neighbor's dog died, she sent one of the boys over with a shovel to help lay the animal to rest.  During his homily, the pastor joked that Denise believed in child labor.  It was never more evident when she was in charge of the church's Christmas Giving Tree.  They collected over two thousand gifts to be distributed to various families and organizations in the area.  All these had to be sorted and wrapped and she had six "volunteers" at the ready.

She was known as Mama B to her kids' friends and her hugs were famous.  She made sure no-one ever left her house hungry.  She grew up in an Italian household and food was love.  When the neighbors returned from an extended vacation, they come home to find their refrigerator stocked so that grocery shopping wasn't a chore that they had to worry about right away.

Father also spoke of the demons Denise faced, in particular, alcoholism.  It was something she couldn't conquer and ultimately destroyed her health.  He reminded her children, though, that however much she was troubled by this, God was there through it all.  He was there for her and He would continue to be there for them.

After the funeral, as we were driving home, Tim and I talked about how beautiful this Mass was.  I was surprised, though, by the open acknowledgment of her alcoholism.  I never saw it and thought the talk of it was just nasty rumors to disparage her during her divorce from my cousin.  That talk had angered me.  I had only been privy to the good.

As we talked, I came to realize that Denise lived big.  She lived big in her love for her family and friends and in her generosity to others.  But she also lived big in her vices.  She had a lot of addictions - alcohol, food, Facebook.  Even her eldest son joked about that last one during his eulogy.

I still don't know what to make of it.  Sometimes I wonder if she could have lived and loved bigly without the vices or did it have to be both.  But that is a false choice.  It is not both or none.  It can be one or the other.  With no bigger love than God's, we can use his graces to fight our demons and work to live and love greatly.

Eternal Rest Eternal rest, grant unto her O Lord 
and let perpetual light shine upon her. 
May she rest in peace. Amen

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

An Open Book: Enough

Of the over one hundred books I read last year, only two were non-fiction.  Both books have something in common - they explore what it means to have enough and live with less stuff.

The Grace of Enough, by Haley Stewart, looks at the spiritual effects that the pursuit of trying to obtain more and more things has on ones life.  The time and effort to acquire and maintain these can impact our relationships with family, friends, and, mostly importantly, God.  In each chapter she explores ways to live more intentionally, with less, and develop and nurture your relationships.  The book was inspired by the year Haley and her family lived on a farm in a 650 square foot apartment with no flush toilet.  

The Year of Less by Cait Flanders is the story of the author's year of not buying anything other than consumables - groceries, toiletries, and gas for her car.  She was inspired to attempt this when, after getting herself out of consumer debt of over $30,000, she was returning to the same bad habits that got her there in the first place.  Her story explores her use of shopping, alcohol and food to deal with emotionally difficult situations.

Both books are thought provoking and offer insight into a living a life of enough in culture where bigger, newer and more is thought to be the norm and ideal.   

Head on over to Carolyn's for more An Open Book.


Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2020 Vision

They say hindsight is 20/20.  It is relatively easy to see what happened and how it went when looking back on events and actions.  I say relatively easy because it needs to be viewed objectively, not colored with regrets, idealism or wishful thinking.

In his homily this morning, Fr. Pat spoke of New Year's Day as a time that has a certain feeling.  On New Year's Eve we count down. Five, four, three, two, one. Happy New Year!  And then comes the "now what?"  It's a new year.  It leaves you wondering what is ahead.

What if what's in front of you could be 20/20?  How do you picture that?  I want my year, no my life, to be filled with gratitude and enough.

A good friend of ours, Socrates, is a theology teacher in a local Catholic high school.  He often reminds his students, when discussing or debating a topic, you need to define your terms.  I want to use this year to determine what both gratitude and enough look like for me.  And, once I figure that out, hopefully I can work on getting better at both.

What's your 2020 vision?


Thursday, December 26, 2019

Born To Do This

Recently I read the suggestion reading a chapter of the Gospel of Luke each day in December before Christmas. With twenty-four chapters, you finish on Christmas Eve. It sounded like a good idea, and surprising myself, I stuck with it.

As I got closer to Christmas, the chapters in Luke led up to Christ’s crucifixion and death.

Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; and when he had said this he breathed his last. Luke 23:46

On Christmas Eve, the Gospel recounted Christ’s resurrection, appearance to the apostles and ultimate ascension into heaven.

They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground. They said to them, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead?  He is not here, but he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day.”  Luke 24:5-7

A few hours after reading the last chapter, at midnight Mass we heard in the gospel, also from Luke, the story of Jesus’ birth.

While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son.  She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock.  The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.

The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”  Luke 2:6-12

The juxtaposition of the stories of the birth and death of Christ struck me as odd, at least until I thought more about it.  It made sense once I remembered a quote attributed to St. Joan of Arc.

I am not afraid... I was born to do this.

The birth and death of Christ. One without the other is meaningless. Had Christ been born but not suffer, die and been resurrected, he most likely would have been considered a great prophet, not the Son of God he was. Christ had to be born human in order to die for our sins.

When we celebrate Christmas, we praise more than the birth of a baby two thousand years ago.  We glorify the salvation of our souls.

Merry and Blessed Christmas!

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

An Open Book: December 2019

The cold, darker evenings have made snuggling up with a book my go-to entertainment of choice lately.  Some of the more memorable ones are below.

A Minute to Midnight by David Baldacci is the second in the Atlee Pine series. The FBI agent takes some mandated time off from her job to help deal with her unresolved anger at the abduction of her twin sister some thirty years ago. With her assistant, Carol, Atlee heads back to the scene of the crime, a rural small town in Georgia. While investigating the decades old crimes a series of new, ghastly murders take place. Are they related or just coincidence?

Gifts: Visible and Invisible by eight different authors is a collection of short stories that explore the true meaning of the Christmas and holiday season.  Each of the stories is entertaining and well written.  What a joy to read such positive and uplifting prose!

The Christmas List by Hillary Ibarra is a sweet story of a poor Tennessee family facing a austere Christmas.  Parents Jack and Karen Hoyle barely scrape by living off what they can earn harvesting a variety of items found in the mountain wilderness.  When an unexpected event limits their source of income, the holiday appears to be bleaker than anticipated.  This is a perfect read for this Advent season for both teens and adults alike.

Head on over to Carolyn's for more An Open Book.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

First Photo - December 2019

No profound thoughts today.  Not even any mildly pithy ones.  I'll leave all that to GKC.

Any one thinking of the Holy Child as born in December would mean by it exactly what we mean by it; that Christ is not merely a summer sun of the prosperous but a winter fire for the unfortunate.
– “The Streets of the City,” The New Jerusalem