Monday, 27 August 2012

First & From Without

"Is she in there?"

"I think so.  Should we knock?"

This was part of the conversation from my fellow teachers outside my classroom door the morning I returned to work, two months after the birth of my first child.    My locked classroom door.   I managed to get into the building with no contact with others, cover my window on my door, and lock myself in for a good cry.    I did not take separation from my baby very well.   I called my husband and told him I just couldn't stay.   He called the personnel office and asked about my leave options.   Then, he called Mama.    "I know it's hard, Joey, but you have to let her face this; she just has to do it."

Later, when I talked to Mama, she told me how she felt when she took me to my first day of school.   She said leaving me at that poor, old south Louisiana school building was one of the hardest things she ever did.   She said she cried the whole way home.    Mama always had tears in her eyes on the first days that would follow.   She was always watching for the bus, ready to greet me.   She loved the summer because I was home and couldn't understand why mothers said they would be glad when school began.  

But she still sent me.   And she was still a passionate supporter of public schools.  

I have never felt closer to Mama since her death than I did today.

After home school only, today was the first day of public school for my daughters.   And I cried all the way to the adoration chapel after I left them.   Jesus was the only person with whom I wanted to speak and I avoided most text messages or calls until I had my time with Him.   The rest of my day has been consolation, encouragement, support, and love.   Thanks be to God!

It's been a great first experience with public school.   I will post later about the specifics involved in this change for our family.   For now, it is enough to say that our priority is always to do what is best for our children and for our family as a whole.   After about eight months of serious consideration, deliberation, and discernment, this move seems to be the best for our family right now.    

It has been a time of tremendous blessings.   Friendships have become deeper as dear women have prayed for me, listened to me, and shared their own journeys in determining the best education options for their children.    One friend, whose children attend the same school, even arranged a tour and meeting with the principal in June.   Today, my phone was busy all day with texts, calls, and Facebook posts from friends letting me know they were praying for us on this first day, telling me that it will all work out, and just asking how things went.   

We hit the jackpot in terms of teacher assignments.   I cried watching C's teacher as she spoke to C.  I also cried because E missed out on this kindergarten experience that I could never duplicate at home.   It has value.   It has a place in our society.   E's teacher seems to be a perfect fit for her personality and learning style.   The nurse has been incredible with her attention to E's allergy and health issues.   The girls were excited and rushed me out the door this morning.   They were still excited and ready to go back tomorrow when I picked them up this afternoon.   I was ready for my children this morning and this afternoon.   I was ready to just focus on them and make the most of our family time together. 

Today has been a first for me, also.   For the first time since I became a stay-at-home mom, I have some much needed structure in my schedule.   I have to check the kids' folders, wash the thermoses (thermosi?) and make sure they've laid out clothes for the next day.   I have to get up early.   Laundry has to be ready and organized.    At first, I felt that I have been a spiritual failure since I was not able to institute structure and discipline for myself and my family.   Over the past few days, though, I've realized something.   Monks, nuns, parish priests--their basic discipline and structure comes not from within themselves, but from without.   Their time is scheduled by their superiors or in the case of parish priests, by their parish & diocese schedules.   

The recurring theme of my Catholic faith: "It's not all up to me."    It's beautiful that there is an institution staffed with people who are there to support us in our child's education.   There are people there who see our children without parental bias.   People who can spark creativity or inspire self-discipline.   It's just another beautiful example of God's ways and his desire for unique lives and families.    Thanks be to God for His blessings and the many forms they can take.   Thanks be to God for our public schools--places that may be imperfect and flawed--but places where miracles happen every day despite everything working against such hope.   Miracle places--for our little miracles with whom we have been gifted for a short while.  

The kitchen sink is a sort of font for holiness (or opportunities for holiness).

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Grits and Grillades

Here's a recipe for one of our family's favorite meals.   Don't let the name throw you off; this Louisiana dish really is delicious!

Typically, this is for Sunday brunch, but it manages to find its way to our weekday table, usually as leftovers, and occasionally this is the meal I bring to a new mom.   In New Orleans, it is a popular brunch dish.

Sunday brunch is my favorite meal for entertaining.    It's already a relaxed day and the assortment of foods you can set out for brunch usually ensures something for everyone.   This dish, grillades (pronounced GREE-yods or GREE-yod), is usually the main dish at brunch.   It is accompanied by an assortment of fresh fruit, buttermilk biscuits, muffins or another breakfast bread, juices, coffee, and a yogurt bar with fruits and toppings, like granola, for the children (and adults).  

Grillades are simply bits of round steak (or cube steak for more tenderness) simmered in a brown, tomato-based gravy.   The gravy's base is a quick roux, made from cooking flour in oil.   For ease of preparation, you can chop the vegetables ahead.   They need to be chopped before you begin cooking the meat.   Finely chopped, the vegetables will cook down so they're not that visible, if you have children who don't like to see their vegetables.   Otherwise, a medium-chop will do.   Kitchen scissors are ideal for cutting green onions.    This is one of those recipes, like soup or gumbo, that is better the second day.   So, if you'd like to use this for Sunday brunch, just prepare it Saturday and re-heat on the stove before your guests arrive.   

Now, if you think you don't like grits, think again.   I've lost count of the people who have told me they just took the grits to be polite and were shocked by how good grits could taste.   Let's be honest, the obscene amounts of butter and sharp cheddar account for most of that!   That's why this is not a regular dish in our weekday meal rotation.    There is also the baking process, though, which helps to change the texture so these grits differ from those of the regular stove top variety.

It does involve some prep work, but this recipe is totally worth the effort!

Grillades and Baked Cheese Grits

4 1/2 lbs round steak (1/2” thick)                       1/2 c chopped fresh parsley
2 tsp salt                                                          4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp pepper                                                     2 c water
2/3 c vegetable oil, divided                                1 tsp dried thyme
2/3 c all-purpose flour                                       2 (14.5 oz) cans stewed tomatoes,
2 c chopped onion                                                    undrained
1 1/2 c chopped green bell pepper                    3 bay leaves
1/2 c chopped green onions                             Garnish:  fresh parsley sprigs
1/2 c chopped celery                                       Baked Cheese Grits

Pound steak to 1/4-inch thickness, using a meat mallet or rolling pin.  Cut steak into 12 serving-size pieces.  Combine salt and pepper; sprinkle evenly over both sides of beef.  Cook beef, a few pieces at a time, in 1/3 cup hot oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until browned on both sides.  Remove beef from Dutch oven and set aside.  Add remaining 1/3 cup oil to drippings in Dutch oven; gradually stir in flour.  Cook over medium heat 5 minutes, stirring constantly.  Stir in 2 cups onion and next 5 ingredients; cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, 7 minutes or until vegetables are tender.  Stir in water and next 3 ingredients.  Add beef, bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 1/2 hours or until beef is tender, stirring and scraping bottom of Dutch oven often.  Discard bay leaves.   Serve by pouring over a slice of baked cheese grits.

Baked Cheese Grits

5 c water                                                                2 c (8 oz) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 tsp salt                                                                 1/4 c butter
2/3 c uncooked quick-cooking*                        
2/3 c uncooked quick-cooking white grits*                1/2 c grated Parmesan cheese
Bring water and salt to a boil in a large saucepan; gradually stir in grits.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add cheddar cheese, butter, stirring until cheese and butter melt.  Pour mixture into a lightly greased 13 x 9 inch baking dish; sprinkle evenly with parmesan cheese.  Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 45 minutes or until set.

* I usually just use one variety of grits.    from: Southern Living Homestyle Cooking

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese

A confusing menu item for visitors to the deep south is macaroni and cheese.   Well, it's not the item itself that is so confusing.   It's the placement.   You will often find macaroni and cheese listed as a "Vegetable" choice.  

I have two recipes I use, but the kids like this one best.   I usually use sharp Cheddar and whole wheat pasta.   Skim milk works well, also.

1 (8 ounce) pkg. dried elbow macaroni, cooked
3 cups (12 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
2 large eggs, lightly beatedn
1 1/2 cups milk
3/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground white pepper
Freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Layer one-third of macaroni in a lightly greased 2-quart casserole; sprinkle with 1 cup cheese.   Repeat layers with remaining two-thirds macaroni and 1 cup cheese, ending with macaroni layer.   Reserve remaining 1 cup cheese.

Combine eggs and next 3 ingredients, stirring with a wire whisk or fork until blended.   Pour egg mixture over macaroni.

Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until thoroughly heated. 

Uncover and sprinkle with remaining 1 cup cheese.   Cover and let stand 10 minutes before serving.   Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper if desired.

from Southern Living Homestyle Cooking

Friday, 10 August 2012

Dance Camp

The girls went to dance camp held by the local high school dance team.   It was a four-day camp with dance routines, daily little performances for parents, a t-shirt, trophy, and a final night performance.   They had so much fun!   It was a huge crowd, but seemed well-organized.   I was impressed with the overall behavior of the high-school girls, especially since the little girls seemed to look up to them so!   It was E's first dance camp in three years and it was C's first one. 

It was my first experience with parking, dropping off, picking up in a school parking lot situation (as a parent).   By the last day, I was better!

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Heather King: Avoiding Both the Catholic Right and the Catholic Left

I just want to share this for anyone who might stumble upon this little blog.   I just want to keep this here, for my children to read.   I just want to keep this here to refer back, time and again.   I just want THIS:

This is one of my favorite written pieces from any Catholic author, or otherwise for that matter.   It expressed what I longed for when I first read it.   My heart hurt so when I read posts by a pro-lifer which began with, "Oh, yeah, well, if you think that then you..." directed at those who commented in disagreement on a post.   The standard justification for such a  lack of civility was "I just tell it like it is."  I had to hide the posts from my Facebook newsfeed. 

I almost cried when a Catholic posted on Facebook that he had to sit by a gay couple and included the comment, "Gross." in his post.   I'm pretty certain that if you believe that homosexuality is a cross--a burden--and one must live a chaste life, that you wouldn't call a person with such a cross, "gross."    Another set of posts hidden from the newsfeed.

After my conversion--actually re-version several years after my conversion--to Catholicism, I was on fire for the Church.   I read apologetics almost exclusively because that's where I was as a convert from an anti-Catholic background.   When I first became a user of Facebook, I posted every article I thought was great and commented as often as I could on other posts, seeking to defend my lovely Church.   I  always did so in a civil, logical manner, but that doesn't change the fact that my objective was more about scoring points than winning hearts or minds.   It was youthful enthusiasm.   It was wrong.   After all, I was immature and new in this Catholic faith of mine.  

As I lived more and experienced more--joys and trials--I wanted less debate and more action.   I wanted less division and more unity.   I wanted less condemnation and more empathy.   I yearned for fewer zingers and more substance.   More God, still with no compromise.    

I'm southern enough that bad behavior is offensive to my sensibilities.   I'm Catholic enough that a lack of Christ and charity is hurtful to my heart.   I've matured.   I am still maturing.   I can benefit from people like Heather King who are ahead of me on the journey.  And I am always in need of much prayer.

from Heather King:

And write this in blood, on your heart:

“To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda or even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery; it means to live in such a way that 
one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.”
--Cardinal Emmanuel CĂ©lestin Suhard, Archbishop of Paris 1940-1949

Another more recent post by Heather King:

 The mark of the follower of Christ is not cogent arguments or airtight apologetics--I'm thinking of St. Thomas Aquinas's "All straw"--but  a heart that bleeds.

I am not talking about sentimentality. I am talking about what Flannery O’Connor meant when she observed:“The Catholic writer, in so far as he has the mind of the Church, will feel life from the standpoint of the central Christian mystery: that it has for all its horror, been found by God to be worth dying for.”

Mama painted this and it hangs by our door.
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