Saturday, February 28, 2009

Greatest gift ever?

No offense to anyone else who's ever given a gift, but I doubt you've ever given one quite as awesome as the one that Jeanette and I recently got from our friend Kathy:

It's a 3-by-3-foot quilted wall hanging of our coat of arms! How cool is that?

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Pumpkin cookies

I invented a new seasonal cookie recipe a few weeks ago, and I have to say, they are quite delightful. They also happen to be incredibly easy to make. So if you've got any Christmas festivities coming up, consider bringing these cookies. (Or you might want to check out my recipe for peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, a cookie for all seasons.)

1 box Trader Joe's Pumpkin Bread & Muffin Mix
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

4 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup butter flavor shortening
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

24-30 pecan halves (optional)

1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 1/2 tablespoons water

Preheat oven to 375 F. In a small bowl, mix pumpkin bread mix and pumpkin pie spice and set aside. In a large bowl, mix cream cheese, shortening, granulated sugar, eggs, and vanilla until smooth. Add dry ingredients in three batches, mixing until smooth after each addition. In a separate bowl, mix powdered sugar, coriander, and water to make an icing.

Form dough into ping-pong-ball-sized balls and place on cookie sheet (preferably neither dark nor non-stick). Leave about 3 inches between the dough balls, because they'll spread quite a bit. Gently press a pecan half onto the top of each dough ball. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until cookies just start to brown around the edges. Drizzle cookies with icing immediately after removing them from the oven.

Let set for 2-3 minutes, then transfer cookies to cooling rack. Once cookies have cooled completely, put them in an airtight container. Makes 24-30 cookies.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

First Sunday of Advent roundup

Today is the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a new liturgical year in the Western Church. Here's a quick explanation of the season from the old Catholic Encyclopedia:

(Latin ad-venio, to come to)

According to present [1907] usage, Advent is a period beginning with the Sunday nearest to the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (30 November) and embracing four Sundays. The first Sunday may be as early as 27 November, and then Advent has twenty-eight days, or as late as 3 December, giving the season only twenty-one days.

With Advent the ecclesiastical year begins in the Western churches. During this time the faithful are admonished

* to prepare themselves worthily to celebrate the anniversary of the Lord's coming into the world as the incarnate God of love,
* thus to make their souls fitting abodes for the Redeemer coming in Holy Communion and through grace, and
* thereby to make themselves ready for His final coming as judge, at death and at the end of the world.
EWTN has what looks to be a very nice little page with succinct explanations of different Advent traditions, plus an Advent calendar with short Bible readings, reflections, and suggested prayers and acts of love for each day.

I went out and bought an Advent wreath yesterday. It's not exactly traditional, but it is quite beautiful. It depicts a Nativity scene, with an angel, a shepherd, the Magi, and Mary and Joseph all adoring the baby Jesus. I've always loved Nativity scenes, so it was a natural choice for me. Jeanette and I blessed it and lit the first candle last night.

I think it will be good to try to celebrate Advent as a season unto itself, a season of eager longing and spiritual preparation for the coming of Christ. It's not the Christmas season yet (that comes after Christmas). The wonderful Father Bernhard Blankenhorn gave a good homily to this effect a couple years ago at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Seattle, and Father Robert Barron has posted a typically good video on the spirituality of Advent:

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pray for the defeat of Initiative 1000

Please pray for the defeat of Initiative 1000, the Washington state ballot measure that, if passed by voters Nov. 4, would legalize physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill adults with a prognosis of less than six months to live.

The passage of I-1000 would be bad news for everyone, especially the most vulnerable in society. It would be the first in a row of dominos down a slippery slope. If it passes here, it will pass in other states and, over time, attitudes and laws will grow increasingly lax until society as a whole doesn’t blink at the government forcibly exterminating people as “burdens.”

Don’t believe me? Read the New York Times Magazine piece on Booth Gardner, the former Washington governor who’s led the push for I-1000:

“Gardner’s campaign is a compromise; he sees it as a first step. If he can sway Washington to embrace a restrictive law, then other states will follow. And gradually, he says, the nation’s resistance will subside, the culture will shift and laws with more latitude will be passed … ”

Or look at Oregon, where a similar law is on the books, where poor people with cancer are sent letters telling them they can’t have chemotherapy but the state will gladly pay to give them massive and lethal (and much cheaper) overdoses of barbiturates.

If I-1000 passes, the poor and uninsured will be the first to suffer, and it will all be – if Oregon’s experience is any indication – for the sake of the convenience of a handful of well-off, well-educated white people who don’t have the guts to kill themselves themselves, without getting the rest of us involved.

If assisted suicide is legalized here, it will almost certainly spread to the entire country, riding the tide of an insidious and deadly cultural shift. The shift is already happening.

Don’t worry, we’re told by the initiative’s supporters, there are plenty of safeguards: Doctors must ensure that patients aren’t depressed before prescribing them the “medicine.” Never mind that this apparently hasn’t happened in Oregon – what has happened to a society when a desire to kill oneself is no longer seen as an obvious symptom of depression?

Ultimately, any “safeguards” must be illusory, because this initiative – like the worldview of which it is an outgrowth – has no foundation in anything foundational. It is a clear rejection of the sanctity of human life, and once that’s gone, nothing is off limits.

The polls don’t look good. At this point, we may need a miracle. So please pray for the defeat of Initiative 1000.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Arts and crafts

"Oh no, I married a three-year-old!"

That's what Jeanette said the other night when she came home from work to find me sitting on the couch with scissors, a glue stick, and a 50-pack of construction paper, making this:

I don't see what the big deal is. I'm totally proud of my Halloween scene. I told Jeanette there's no way a three-year-old could make something this awesome.

No, I'm not going to tell you how long I took to make it.

I like Halloween. Or at least the foggy, campy atmosphere of imagined old non-scary horror movies that I vaguely associate with it.

This is just the first in a series of similar arts and crafts projects. Stay tuned for a Thanksgiving scene (possibly) and a Nativity scene (definitely).

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"Give us this day our daily bread"

I've sometimes wondered how to reconcile the reality of crippling poverty with some of the promises that Jesus makes in the Bible. Jesus teaches His disciples to pray "Give us each day our daily bread" (Luke 11:3), and then a few verses later he promises that "every one who asks receives" (Luke 11:10). Now, I am sure that there are many people throughout the world who earnestly pray the Lord's Prayer every day, and yet starve. Where is their daily bread? Why are they not receiving what they ask for, even though it's something Jesus specifically told them to ask for? Why isn't God holding up His end of the deal?

I think I got some insight into this problem on Monday when I talked with a man who has been working in Guatemala for the past few years. For 18 months he worked with people in Guatemala City who literally lived in a garbage dump. They dug their homes out of the garbage, and the floors were garbage and the walls were garbage. For the past year he's been working in the rural areas of Guatemala, where 50 percent of people are so poor that they can't afford sufficient food for their families. Here's what he said:

"Now when I say the Lord's Prayer, it's just very different for me. It's much more immediate, that it's not something just on Sunday, but it's actually a daily prayer there for them. 'Give us this day our daily bread.' And I think it's important to remember it doesn't say 'my daily bread,' it says 'our daily bread,' that it's for the whole world. You know, it's not, 'Oh, give me enough for me to get by today.' No. It's 'Give us -- give all of us -- our daily bread,' and I have a greater understanding of that now."

As usual, the problem is not with God, but with us. He has certainly provided us with enough food to feed the world. But selfishness and indifference keep us from seeing that those who are hungry get the food they need. There's no excuse for it. We are responsible for one another. I probably eat enough for a small village, and somewhere a child is swallowing rocks to fill the awful emptiness in his belly.