Friday, December 14, 2007

In The Stacks

Everyone knows that books are for reading, and this is as it should be. We love books. Our house should testify to this. Take it from the African American Comcast repair man who came to fix our cable, he glances around the living room as he kneels to inspect the non-blinking box and being a bit awestruck (I chose to interpret it this way at least) tells me in his distinctly punctuated style, "Man, you must really like books." Indeed, we do.

But when, at the last count, there were over 200 library books in addition to six five-shelf bookcases brimming over with books that we own, it would be silly to limit ourselves to merely treating them as eye candy. So, in the name of utility, books have become a raiser for my laptop when it sits on my desk, little blue Shakespeare volumes are a decoration/backdrop for my icon and nativity scene, an old, hefty stack of Defensiones Divi Thomae becomes an extra shelf in the closet, the five stacks against the wall of our bedroom hide the ugly floor molding (and the outlet) and provide visual interest below the window sill, and tightly packed together on the bottom shelf they become almost indestructible child proofing against inquisitive children.

Ah, one can never have enough books; except when one is moving, then, even five books is five books too many. Also, we have too many library books. Even though we've had some of them for 5 semesters now, I still can't change the impression that they are transient books that don't really deserve a spot of the bookshelf. Thus, they sit in piles three feet high (or as high as we can safely stack them) in our bedroom. They were in the living room but that was rather unsightly and a bit dangerous once our son began kneeling and pulling at things. Now I am trusting in the osmosis while we sleep and worldfamous articles by my husband to justify the pain of housing all these books.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Pierogi Pinching

I just returned from pierogi day. Every year since my husband can remember, there is one day, always between Thanksgiving and Christmas where every family member--and anyone else they can find--is herded into the kitchen and held hostage for an entire day. You are assigned a job based on your skill set. There are no volunteers, you simply do as you are told.

My mother-in-law has excellent administrative skills, multi-tasks like crazy, and knows the secret recipe. She, therefore, was assigned to dough maker/roller when she was 12. She cracks 8 (I think) eggs and mixes that with butter, flour, water, potatoes, salt, ?, ? in some special order in the pierogi-only Rubbermaid container. She works it, she kneads it, she rolls it on the pierogi-only cutting board. The dough is too fat, so she rolls it again. Then she cuts thin little circles out with a cookie cutter and transfers them to a cookie sheet on the table in front of the pinchers. For years now she has been trying to get out of her job because, well, while being sore the next day was a pain when she was younger, being sore for the next three days and hopped-up on Advil is not her idea of fun. But, as we said, there are no volunteers.

Then there's the cooker, that's my husband, Matt. The cooker--note, not the "chef"--is responsible for coming to the pinchers' table and picking up the pinched pierogi. From there he transfers the pierogi into boiling water and watches for them to float, when they have come to the top he scoops them out and rinses them in cold water. He then brings them to the packer (Aunt Kiki) and pours them into her bowl of butter. He must also have a stick of butter always melting to refill the packer's supply and extra kettles of water boiling to change the water when necessary. As if this is not enough for one person to do, especially a non-multi-tasker, whenever the cooker is Matt, he is also forced to be the runner.

Here's a snapshot of what we, as pinchers, overhear. Impatiently someone orders, "Matthew, the Saran Wrap, my fingers are covered in butter." Urgently someone yells, "Matthew, the telephone. Your hands are clean." Accusingly, "Focus, Matthew! How long have the pierogi been in the water?" Eagerly, "Matthew, the presents please; there's a lull." I think you get the idea. He takes a lot of heat for his difficult job as cooker added to his admittedly bad case of absent-mindedness and multiplied by his job as general lackey to the packer, pinchers, and roller. Sometimes I feel bad for him. But I know he just couldn't cut it as a pincher.

Pinching isn't difficult work, but it does require an attention to detail and the crucial ability of either not talking or talking while working. If Stephen is on "parole" for his slack production on account of talking, there's no way Matt could make it. The beautiful thing about pinching is that you get to sit the whole time. Mom puts the circles of dough in front of us, we pinch them, and then people--okay, Matt--takes them from our table to the stove. We stretch the little circles out like mini pizzas, put the filling in the center, and pull the edges together. Here comes the skill: we pinch. The thumb and forefinger carefully smush the edges together, making sure that no cabbage or potato has escaped. After we pinch the pierogi, we are forced to painstakingly add a decorative edge (compliments of Sarah) to identify the different kinds.

They are whisked away at odd intervals punctuated by "Matthew!" to be boiled and then packed in butter until it is time to eat them. Prior to eating, they are removed from the butter packaging and fried in, yes, butter. Ummm, ummm, delicious.

Personally, I'm really glad that my skill set recommended me for the involuntary job of pincher. Poor Matthew.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Side Sit

Dominic moved from the army "I'm dragging myself through no-man's land" crawl to the normal all fours crawl about two weeks ago (8 months). While I am sure that this is quite a step forward developmentally--he no longer pants after crawling 3 feet--I am a bit melancholy that I lost my comic relief. Amidst the endless diapers, orange spit ups, attempts to eat the power cords, baby melt downs, and other rescue missions, this funny little army crawl provided some needed relief to my days. Alas, it is gone.

Or so I thought...for at least a minute I really believed that the comedy with Dominic died with the army crawl. In reality, it has only been superseded by something perhaps funnier yet: the side sit. He crawls and then tries to sit. Resulting in a sit that isn't quite complete; he can't push himself up from the extended arm. Dominic the ham, however, adds his own flair and turns it into little side pose with his hand on the hip.

God knew we needed comedy. That's why he gave us children, spouses, and, of course, Seinfeld.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Here No Weevil, See No Weevil

Today I had to contend with untold weevils. Even now I cannot think of these weevils without shuddering. Seriously, I get shivers every time I remember my battles with these copious little creatures that housed themselves quite comfortably in our beans, flour, rice, couscous, and pasta. The old adage that they taught us in D.A.R.E., while not particularly helpful in staving off the large pests of peers and their drug coercion, does actually hold true when it comes to smaller pests--there is strength in numbers.

I set out in true domestic fashion to make lentil soup so that we could enjoy it on Sunday after church. With the untrammeled pluck of a new housewife, I industriously grab the bag of uncooked lentils from the pantry (okay, so it's really just a shelf in the front closet), threw them on the counter, and energetically plunked a large pot full of water onto the stove. I was ready for the quick two-minute boil and then the hour long soak to rid the beans of any unwanted organic particles and finally the actual soup-making process of dicing vegetables, sauteeing mixtures, and putting it all together to simmer. I was fully prepared, after all, I had an entire day to make this soup.

My elaborate plan, I soon discovered, had a slight kink in it. I had pulled out the dried green peas instead of the lentils. No problem, the lentils were still in the pantry. But what's this, oh, oh no, I don't think that I can handle this. Little black bugs were filing out of the green peas. 5, no 7, 10, AHHHH this bag--still sealed, mind you--was entirely infested. A bean, a bug, a bean, two bugs...there was no end to it. Acting in true problem solver style, I threw on an oven mitt and tossed that bag right into the trash, quickly mushing the remaining bugs into a paper towel. Well, at least that solves the problem of where the little black bugs were coming from (I had seen a half dozen in the course of that week).

Then it dawns on me that the green peas might not be the only infested bags of dried beans. Oh no, my lentils! I snatch them from the pantry; they seem to be okay. No visible infestation. I then don my oven mitt a second time and gingerly fish out the remaining bags of beans: black, kidney, great northern, and 16-bean. I toss them like hot potatoes onto the counter for the dreaded inspection. Uhh...I can see the beastly little creatures enjoying their spacious habitat amongst the great northerns and the 16-bean. creeping, crawling, tramping over the beans in their sealed bags. It gives me the willies so bad that I can't stand to examine the others, so I toss out the whole lot.

As much as I want to just run out of the apartment screaming, "Help! Bugs!" my ego (and my sense of duty) simply wouldn't let me. To my horror, I spent the rest of the afternoon examining the contents of my pantry, tossing the infested, and thoroughly cleaning the entire affected area. "Oh the horror, the horror" does not even come close to the duration of my shivers this afternoon.

And yet, industrious housewife that I am, I can say that even though I didn't end up making lentil soup for tomorrow (I couldn't decide if the lentils were infested or not so I threw them out to eliminate the paranoia), I thoroughly and impeccably cleaned our front closet, also known as the pantry.

At The Wellsprings of Prayer

During a "quiet time" this morning while Dominic was napping ("quiet time" has taken on a whole new meaning now that I have a jabbering, crawling, falling baby), I read Matthew 14-15 and was struck how Jesus feeds thousands twice within two chapters. Now I know that it may not be chronological by chapters/days, but it seems to be a central concern of Christ's. He is the Bread of Life and he is feeding the hungry, by the thousands. Not only that, but he feeds them when they have come "bothering" him from his private solace when he has just found out that his dear cousin, John the Baptist, has just been beheaded by Herod! Very interesting food for thought. (pun intended)

I followed my meditation on Matthew (well, really on Jesus) with some reading on prayer from the Catechism. The article is entitled "At The Wellsprings of Prayer". While the whole article is beautiful and very inspiring, the opening paragraphs really stood out. I couldn't help sharing them with you for two reasons. 1) We all can use a little inspiration or a fresh look at "old stuff". I italicized what particularly struck me. 2) There are a lot of misconceptions about the Catholic Church, and I thought this was a beautiful articulation (one of many) of its view of both prayer and Scripture.

At The Wellsprings of Prayer

2653 The Church "forcefully and specially exhorts all the Christian faithful . . . to learn 'the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ' (Phil 3:8) by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. . . . Let them remember, however, that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that a dialogue takes place between God and man. For 'we speak to him when we pray; we listen to him when we read the divine oracles."'4

2654 The spiritual writers, paraphrasing Matthew 7:7, summarize in this way the dispositions of the heart nourished by the word of God in prayer "Seek in reading and you will find in meditating; knock in mental prayer and it will be opened to you by contemplation."5

That last one makes me think of an old tape of Harold and the Midnight Bread we used to listen to while we were going to bed as kids. "Don't give up, oh no no. Don't give up. Keep on knocking and you shall find...." I'm sure my brothers will be able to dredge this one up pretty quickly ; it had quite the jingle to it.