Thursday, October 27, 2016

Tempting Fate with a Miracle, an Angel, and a Patchwork Quilt


We have four cats living with us. How did this happen?! Let's see:

When my daughter was 9 months old, I adopted two kittens that my hairdresser's daughter rescued from "behind the DMV." They had posted a sign in the shop that read, "Free to good home, orange tabby and sibling." Somehow, I knew they were my cats before I even met them.

I gave them to my husband as a "SURPRISE" for Father's Day. He was not amused. We named them Seven and Nelix after characters from Star Trek: Voyager.

They became a loving and integral part of our family. Nelix had some behavior and health issues his whole life. But we adapted, and he mellowed with age. When he was 13, he suddenly and traumatically died of acute kidney failure while I was distracted by an unsettling issue at church. No matter how many experts told me he would have died despite earlier care, I still felt awful. Thankfully, St. Francis of Assisi helped me through the worst of it, as I wrote about here.

Seven is our 16-year old, geriatric hyperthyroid Miracle Cat with small bowel disease. Here is a photo I took a few days ago. To me she seems regal and Spinx-like. I wonder sometimes if I see what the objective viewer would see because of the love factor. My daughter, who administers Seven's meds twice daily, has read articles with tips to help you see your elderly cat with clear eyes so you can catch problems earlier, AND reassure yourself that all is well. More on Seven after the other intros.


A few years ago, my daughter asked me to help her sew a patchwork quilt. I said we had nowhere to set it up and she didn't have time with all her activities anyway. 

And then, when my son was getting ready to leave for college, she asked, "Can we set up to sew a patchwork quilt in his room?"

I said, "How 'bout instead we adopt a couple of kittens and name them Patchwork and Quilt? She agreed.


I wanted them to fill some of the space left by my son's growingupness, and I felt we needed back-up cats, for when Seven, you know. These two add so much rambunctiousness and joy to this house!

And then about six months ago a stray cat showed up in the backyard. "Don't feed her!" And yet, she was literally starving. I came home from a class one night and my daughter, my husband, and all three cats on the screened-in back porch said, "Listen to her pitiful meow, we HAVE TO feed her."

"Okay, quick. Feed her." I knew the moment that bowl of dry food went out there, she was ours. I said, "Welp, we're probably entertaining an angel unaware (Hebrews 13:2). Or, maybe it's Professor Mcgonagall stuck inside a transfiguration spell." We named her Minerva.

She wouldn't let us anywhere near her, but she enjoyed hanging out on the deck as close to the cats on the screen-in porch as possible. One rainy day, she accepted my invitation to enter the porch for breakfast, and then she *ahem* accepted my husband's oven-mittened invitation to be shoved into a cat carrier. Our veterinarian determined she was about 4-years-old and had been spayed and ear clipped on behalf of someone taking care of a feral colony. We believe their habitat was destroyed due to a big strip mall construction job up the road.

I mean, this cat is feral. She lives in our garage. I sit about a foot away while she eats breakfast and dinner. The other cats and she get along fine, but she still won't let me touch her. And so it goes . . .


Mostly, my other cats spend a lot of their time in my way. I mean, look at Quilt's face. He's totally saying, "Oh, yeah. I know you were in the middle of folding these. That's why I'm here."


When this happens, I know I've spent too long away from my writing.


When this happens, my writing goes really well.


Ah. Yummy cat energy.



Back to Seven Miracle Cat Ross and tempting fate. Seven almost died about two years ago on November 11. She had gradually stopped eating and had become dehydrated by the time I got her to the veterinarian. They didn't know what was wrong with her, but they kept her over night to administer IV antibiotics and liquids.  

I was so sure we were going to have to make the terrible decision the next morning to put her down. I asked my Facebook friends to pray and I prayed and worried. And as I was standing in line to check in the next morning at Port City Animal Hospital, Dr. Moore came out with the paperwork for another patient, looked up at me and announced to the whole office, "Seven ate breakfast!"

That's when I added Miracle Cat to her name. Dr. Moore, with the free consultation assistance from a specialist in Texas, determined she had small bowel disease and we proceeded accordingly. At this point, Seven is on thyroid medicine, a steroid for her tummy, and high blood pressure medicine which helps keep her from becoming hyper with that racing heart thing, and also assists with keeping her kidney functioning optimally. She's also on a prescription cat food that became available just a little while before her diagnosis.

I think it was about 8 months ago that we learned that the thyroid medicine wasn't working anymore. Her numbers were horrible and at her age, there was nothing we could do. (Invasive radiation treatment just wasn't going to happen.) The specialist advised us to increase the dosage of thyroid medicine a little bit anyway (but not too much or it will affect the kidneys) because even if it's not working fully, it might be working enoughly.

Since that time, we've increased the dosage twice and after the last time, she's acting normal and has put on weight!

She's a miracle. But I haven't talked about her much because I didn't want to tempt fate. You know, when you do that thing when you say how happy you are about a certain condition and then, boom, the badness happens. 

Okay, first of all I learned that the definition of tempting fate is more like not wearing a bike helmet or fastening your seat belt. It has to do with preparing properly for a dangerous situation.

The way I was applying it to my miracle cat was stupidstition, a lovely word invented by my dad.

I should be shouting from the roof top, thanking the Lord for our miracle cat, not hiding out hoping the Fates don't notice us and say, "Oh, yeah, we let that one go on to long." People might think, well, she brought that on herself by talking about it. Really?! I'm smacking my head.

Look, Seven is going to die whether I talk about her miracle or not. I'm going die. You're going to die. We're all going to die. Some day. It's okay to talk about it. I mean, be careful, wear your bike helmets, fasten your seat belts, store your guns safely and all that. But, good and bad are inevitable and it's okay to talk about both.

Pretend I'm standing on my roof:

THANK YOU, GOD, FOR OUR MIRACLE CAT! Thank you, Port City Animal Hospital for taking such golden care of Seven! Thank you, Julia, for your faithful medicine administration! Thank you, Richard and Chris, for coming to our house those times to do healing prayers for Seven! Thank you, Facebook family and Saints and Recipe readers, for praying for Seven!

Seven's comfortable life is a joint effort and my appreciation is larger even than the words I just wrote. She's sleeping here between my keyboard and the computer screen. I think that means she's grateful, too.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

CHRYSANTHEMUM, CHRYSANTHEMUM, MACARONI & CHEESE


Kevin Henkes is not a saint. But . . . hold that thought.

I want to announce that my two-year spiritual journey launched and sustained by a series of rejections is over. Simultaneously a period of grief and transformation, I've come out of it strong and grateful for everything I learned about addiction, psychology, spirituality . . . and I could go on but I don't want to.

Two situations helped me realize I was finished with that particular journey and ready to being new ones. The first was my latest Beach Meandering Treasure. (See Bonus Material below.)  The second were feelings that began to bubble up related to my son who's in his third year of college. I experienced visceral memories of all those delicious hours spent reading picture books while he sat on my lap with his sippy cup and blankee. I remembered kissing his left temple with every page turn. Yummy!

These memories and glints of sadness appeared here and there over several days. Then one afternoon, alone in the house, I experienced a flashback of sitting in the rocking chair with him all cozy and snug, thinking to myself how happy I was and how the moment was even more special because someday I was going to deeply miss reading to my little boy.

And 17 years later, as the ache welled up in my heart, I realized "someday" was now. 

Ouch.

But as I wept, a part of me was gleeful with relief because I understood my spiritual journey was over and no longer distracting me from the empty nest journey I should have taken during his first year of college. Two epiphanies occurred as I focused in on my feelings. 

The first is the occupation I pretended to have as a child was Mom. So when my son was was born, I felt as if I had been waiting for him most of my life, because, in fact, I had been. Fa-reeky.

The day he left for college, I entered semi-retirement because my daughter was still in high school. And then the day my daughter earned her driver's license, I entered mostly-retirement. As a stay-at-home mom, this transition comes with grief because I don't have a career that I can finally pay full attention to now that my kids have mostly grown up. They were my job, and I loved my job.

I mean, I've been working on it. I'm a youth ministry and blessed baker at my church, and I'm spending more time writing. Oh, and full disclosure, I take care of four cats. (I know. I know. *sigh*) I also have a hard-working husband who still needs clean clothes and food in the fridge. So, I'm good and gearing myself up for when my daughter heads off to college.

The second epiphany is I really love books. I  especially enjoy biographies, saintly and otherwise. But my favorite genre is children's books, particularly middle grade and picture books. A good picture book is a treasury of words, illustrations, repeated readability, and metaphors -- lessons that even adults can apply to real life.

Take, for example, CHRYSANTHEMUM, by Kevin Henkes. Now, Kevin Henkes is not a saint. But he is an author/illustrator and looked upon with envy by many picture book writers who desperately want to illustrate their own book but simply don't have the necessary talent. In other words, it's well known in the children's writing world that it's doable for illustrators to learn how to write, but nigh impossible for writers to learn how to illustrate.

Anyway, Kevin Henkes's books are wonderful. CHRYSANTHEMUM is my favorite with it's artistic phrases and narrative illustrations.

Chrysanthemum is the main character. She is loved exceedingly by her diligent parents. She loves herself and her name. She thinks her name is the coolest. But then she went to the first day of school where the other children teased her, "You're named after a flower!"

"Chrysanthemum wilted."

Best line in all of story-telling.

So this teasing goes on for a couple of days. Her parents tried everything to boost Chrysanthemum back up, they prepared her favorite dinner, "macaroni and cheese with ketchup," and the next night "chocolate cake with buttercream frosting" for dessert. They played her favorite board game with her, secretly read parenting books, and filled her up with hugs, kisses, and encouraging words. Chrysanthemum shored herself up with a pocket full of "her most prized possessions and her good-luck charms." But the teasing continued to hurt her feelings. 

On the third morning, the class met the indescribably wonderful music teacher, Mrs. Twinkle. Everyone wanted to impress her! But when she heard some of children tease Chrysanthemum for being named after a flower, she said, "I'm named after a flower, too. My name is Delphinium Twinkle! And if my baby is a girl, I'm considering Chrysanthemum as a name. I think it's absolutely perfect."  

Guess what Chrysanthemum did when she heard that?

"She blushed. She beamed. She bloomed."

Mrs. Twinkle is a metaphor for adults who work with youth or anyone who leads a group of people. Her message is, be your authentic self. When you share your authentic self, you might discover that your most unique aspect is the one thing that will connect you to a particular person in your group who desperately needs a connection. It takes real courage from the heart to do this. It might even take a spiritual journey to stumble upon your authentic self, but it's worth every step.

Here's the thing about my son, I loved reading to him so much because I love reading. So when he asked to read the last Lord of the Rings on his own because it was faster, I didn't argue because I understood his desire.

And then, we grew apart because I didn't like to play video games, and he didn't like to do anything else.

I believed this for a long time, but it's not true. We both enjoy the koi pond he and his dad built in the backyard. He enjoys playing with our cats and helping me with gardening tasks. Lately, his practical take on people and situations has been spot on and surprisingly helpful to me. Oh, and he likes to play board games. Especially, when cousins and unlimited quantities of food are involved. I, on the other hand, would rather read than play a board game, even if cousins and unlimited quantities of food are involved. It would help if these games started earlier than 10 p.m., just saying, but I digress.

My point is my son didn't abandon me by growing up. He simply outgrew picture books, and I still love them. Aha! 

Know what else? My son shares my love of cooking and EATING! So here's a grown-up version of  
Macaroni and Cheese Casserole


For those with the palate of a five-year-old, swap out the pepper jack for mild cheddar and leave out the hot sauce and mustard. But don't forget the ketchup!

Ingredients

1 14.5-ounce box elbow macaroni
1 8-ounce block sharp cheddar cheese
1 8-ounce block pepper jack cheese
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon mustard
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, or to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 to 2 cups cooked broccoli or peas
About one cup of crushed potato chips

Instructions

 1. Cook macaroni according to box instructions, drain, and set aside.
 2. Grate cheese and set aside.
 3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
 4. Melt butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add flour. Cook for about 4 minutes, stirring constantly.
 5. Turn heat to medium, add milk, and stir with a slotted spoon or whisk until thick, about three minutes.
 6. Stir in mustard, hot sauce, salt, and pepper.
 7. Stir in cooked macaroni.
 8. Stir in half of each type of cheese.
 9. Stir in broccoli or peas.
10. Spread mixture into lightly-greased 13 x 9 casserole dish.
11. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. 
11. Top with crushed potato chips. 
12. Bake, uncovered at 350 degree F for about 30 minutes until bubbly and golden.

Serve with a heart-healthy salad and a good book!



Bonus Material

Facebook Post, September 23



There are times, especially right after posting deeply revealing insights about myself to my blog, when my confidence falters and I focus a little too much on the possibility that I'm simply imagining most of what I believe to be true about how God works. I say to myself, that's called faith, and you are just filling in the blanks.

And then I'm compelled to go to the beach so I can find a treasure that I can interpret into an angelic message and everything will be all right again. This morning, as I put my rosary into my pocket, I prayed a petition to Mother Mary that she and all the saints and angels whom guide me would come with me to the beach.
When I got out of my car in the Johnnie Mercer Pier parking lot, I dropped my phone. The "miracle" that I didn't crack the screen was because I had paid the money for the protective cover. But when I picked up the phone and looked at the screen, I saw a recipe about chops that looked familiar. When I scrolled to the top, I recognized my post "Preparing to Celebrate St. Mary the Virgin," from the Grow Christians archives which includes a section on how to pray the Rosary!
What the?! Who the?! What are the odds that my dropped phone would randomly open up to the archive of a website, to a post with my own words promoting the act of praying the Marian Rosary which I happened to have in my pocket?!
And so, message received -- I am NOT making this stuff up. 
I could have gone home at that point. But I walked in the drizzly morning air and, following my instructions, I prayed a casual version of the Rosary, (because I didn't have a guidebook handy).
Sometimes when I walk along the shore, I dip my hand in the surf like it's holy water and then make the Sign of the Cross. I usually don't do that when anyone's around, because, you know, it's weird. But I did it right as a jogger ran by. He said nothing.
But I said out loud, "Oh my God!" Because as I looked up I saw a pod of dolphins! I haven't seen dolphins out there in a really long time. So I'm all like yay, dolphins! What a treat from Above, because I'm being open about my faith. But I bet I won't see them jumping out of the water, though, because I'm only interpreting this as a sign, it's not really a sign.
And then two dolphins jumped. And then they did it twice more. 
The pod swam (and probably ate) with me as I walked and ran a little to the Oceanic Pier.
I turned and walked back calmed by the notion that even if there are folks out there who don't like it, I'm doing EXACTLY what I'm supposed to be doing right now. There's a peace in knowing that, even though I'm not sure what's coming next.
I  looked to my left along the row of beach houses and saw a flock of pterodactyls gliding serenely along in the rain, just like me.
I mean, pelicans. I saw pelicans. Okay? #authenticity #beachmeanderingtreasure

Second Bonus Material:

Contributed by Anne Kirchgraber-Mckee
YS Director Owen City Public Library

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

ST. LUKE, SNUGGLIES, & SUNSHINE COOKIES

This post originally appeared in Grow Christians.

Image result for st luke
St. Luke's Episcopal Church, East Greenwich, RI


St. Luke fascinates me, and I plan on researching and writing more about him. Consider this post an appetizer. 

As a Greek physician who traveled, studied, and preached with Paul, St. Luke left us a legacy of written words in both the Gospel According to Luke and Acts of the Apostles. Tradition hold that he died at age 84 in Antioch, Syria, and his feast day is October 18.
It’s believed St. Luke was also an artist and that he painted a portrait of Mother Mary during a two-year period when they were both living in Jerusalem. With her insights, he wrote the most comprehensive gospel passages about Jesus’s miraculous conception and birth. Here’s a familiar passage from the poetic King James Version:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Luke 2:8-14
In 1965, Charles M. Shultz placed these words in his cartoon followed by, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
For many people, a seasonal viewing of A Charlie Brown Christmas is almost as necessary as producing a pageant or nativity scene.
In fact, centuries earlier, it was the above passage that encouraged St. Francis of Assisi to create the first nativity scene in the town of Greccio on Christmas Eve in 1223!
St. Luke’s words inspired these two people to create lasting traditions which inspire others in endless creative ripples.
One such ripple is called, “Just Drop the BlanketThe Moment You Never Noticed in A Charlie Brown Christmas,” by Jason Soroski in which the author shows how significant it is that Linus released his security blanket the moment he recited the angelic words, “Fear not.”
Perhaps without realizing it, all Christians strive for this connection to Jesus Christ -- the moment when we let go of our security habits in the trustful knowledge that we are safe with God.
For children, it can be a practical experience of putting away an actual blanket. Here’s a scene from our home in October of 2001:


Such coziness for story time!
Pages turn faster in the spring when things grow. My son dropped his blanket! And then he helped me create this:

Blanket Shadowbox Keepsake


Ingredients

1 shadow box frame
1 well-worn security blanket
Photos of child with blanket
1 index card
Optional: Other keepsake items

Instructions

1. Wash and completely dry security blanket. Fold neatly and place into shadow box.
2. Arrange photos and other items on top.
3. Place pieces of double-sided tape on back of photos and items and adhere to blanket.
4. Personalize index card with name, birthdate, date of box creation, and message. Adhere to blanket.
5. Secure clear lid in place. Hang shadowbox on wall.

Children show us how easy it is to drop that which no longer serves. It seems harder for us adults to let go of security addictions or habits and leap fully into the hands of God. But when we do, our joy comes from the powerful connection to the Swaddling Clothes of Love in the center of Christmas.

In honor of St. Luke whose writing kindles the spark of Jesus Christ, let’s make sunshine-filled:

ORANGE RICOTTA COOKIES*



Ingredients

Dough

½ cup (1 stick) softened butter
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 tablespoon vanilla
8 ounces fresh ricotta cheese
2 eggs
2 ¼ cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder

Icing

2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons orange juice
½ teaspoon orange extract
Orange sprinkles

Instructions

 1. In a mixing bowl, blend butter and sugar.
 2. Add orange juice, vanilla, ricotta, and eggs. Mix together.
 3. In another bowl, combine flour, salt, and baking powder. Stir with fork.
 4. Slowly add the dry mix to the liquid mixture to form a sticky dough.
 5. Place in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
 6. Combine powdered sugar, orange juice, and orange extract.
 7. Beat. Set aside.
 8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
 9. Drop small spoonfuls of dough onto parchment paper-covered cookie sheets.
10. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until edges golden.
11. Remove tray from oven. Quickly spread icing on each cookie while cookies are hot so that the icing melts and dribbles down each one.
12. Shake orange sprinkles quickly and carefully onto the liquid icing before it hardens.
13. Cool on wire rack.

Makes about 48 cookies.

*If “eating cookies” is the security habit you want to drop; fresh oranges are an excellent alternative.

This recipe first appeared in my post about St. Perpetua. The orange sprinkles in the photo are tiny Tiggers because I couldn't find orange sugar crystals at the grocery store. Tigger's a happy fellow, though. So there's that.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

ST. MATTHEW, APOSTLE AND EVANGELIST, & ZEPPOLE

This post originally appeared in Grow Christians.


Because Jesus called him, Matthew transformed from tax collector to apostle and evangelist within a few hours. St. Matthew also wrote the sayings of Jesus that were later translated into Greek and expanded into the Gospel According to Matthew. Tradition holds that he died a martyr, and his feast day is September 21.

Not much else is known about St. Matthew except that his name might have been “Levi” before Jesus called him, but not according to Matthew:

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.
                                                                                                Matthew 9:9
I believe that Matthew should be the patron saint of transformation because he changed so suddenly and completely from tax collector to apostle!
Biblical-era tax collectors had a terrible reputation. In those days, Rome conquered and occupied other countries and cultures. They provided some services, like roads and aqueducts, but they ruled strictly and demanded payment in the form of taxes. Tax collectors were usually members of the communities being occupied and they were expected to collect extra taxes for their own wages. Their fellow countrymen deeply despised them because they were siding with the enemy, and everyone knew that they collected far more than they turned over to the Romans.
So here’s Matthew, by the shore of Lake of Gennésaret, sitting at a table in a tax booth collecting taxes, customs for trade items, and tolls from people arriving by boat.
Jesus, having just left Capérnaum, walked by all the people in line to pay, saw Matthew, and said, “Follow me.”
Now, we don’t know what Matthew was thinking as he counted his money. We don’t know how he felt about his own life or what he already knew of Jesus of Nazareth. But we can surmise that the first thing he did was look up. He looked up, listened to Jesus, and followed Him with absolutely no regard to what he was leaving behind on that table.
In fact, Matthew was so completely transformed by Jesus’s call that he immediately invited his friends to dinner so they could meet Jesus for themselves!
Raise your hand if you’re envious of Matthew’s clear call into the Lord’s service. Me!
Sometimes we are so focused on our distractions that we forget how simple it is to hear that call.
Step One:  Look up.

In honor of the transformation of St. Matthew, take in a live or recorded performance of the musical, Godspell based his gospel.
Or listen to the sound track as you transform the “salt of the earth,” and “grains of the field” into something sweet and scrumptious:

HONEY-GLAZED ZEPPOLE (Doughnuts)


Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon white sugar
2 eggs
1 cup ricotta cheese
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
About 8 cups (½ gallon) vegetable oil

1 cup honey
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Instructions

1. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.
2. Stir in eggs, ricotta cheese, and vanilla. Mix gently with spoon until blended into a sticky batter.
3. Heat oil in a deep-fryer to 375 degrees F. Or use a large sauce pot over medium heat. The oil should measure about two inches in depth. If you do not have a deep-fry thermometer, roll up a small piece of bread and drop in hot oil to test the temperature. When bread ball attracts lots of bubbles, the oil is ready.
4. Carefully drop batter by tablespoons into hot oil, about five or six at a time. Watch astounded as the zeppole plunge to the bottom, rise up, and turn themselves over a few times. (Be careful to avoid splattering the hot oil. To be extra safe, young children should watch this step from afar.)
5. Fry until golden brown, about four or five minutes.
6. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a tray with two layers of paper towels to drain.
7. Whisk honey, water, and cinnamon in medium pot over medium-high heat until glaze comes to a boil. Remove pan from heat.
8. Dip zeppole into honey glaze with a slotted spoon and pile onto a platter. 
9. Serve warm. (The fried zeppole can rest for up to 6 hours on the counter before dipping into the hot honey right before serving.)

This recipe first appeared in my St. John the Baptist post. Many Italian Americans also celebrate St. Joseph's feast day with zeppole.