Happy New Year & Epiphany Update

First off, please pray for the repose of the soul of Mike Flynn’s father and for comfort his family and all who love him.

Been feeling weird. My wife offered ‘Painless Migraine’ as an amateur diagnosis of whatever it is that has slowed my brain to molasses. Description seems about right – dizzy, a little nauseated, can feel all the little biological mechanisms working that keep you from falling over and convert binocular vision into a seamless 3-D representation of the world. I’m an observer of some of the base biological underpinnings of my own human consciousness. A little unnerving.

Be that as it may, kicking off 2018 in a bit of a fog. Weirdly (seems weird to me, anyway) while writing and even reading are difficult, playing the piano is OK up to a point. So, when I’m up and about, tend to wander over to the ivories and tickle away. Gonna have some Bach and Beethoven down if this keeps up.

Twitter, as a low-attention-span medium, has risen to the top of my low attention over the last week. Odd snippets of thought.

Once you’ve thought of Keanu Reeves as Gilligan in the gritty reboot, there’s no going back.

Then, a thought over 3 tweets about how Hegel’s baleful influence manifests in the current mishegas:

1 Just had a thought: if being exists transiently in a world of becoming (Hegel) vs becoming existing in a world of being (Aristotle, Thomas), then it is meaningless to speak of defending a culture. There is no eternal good, true & beautiful for a culture to reflect. All is grass.

2 We who think the good, true & beautiful can be present in a culture, however imperfectly, might think the culture war is a battle over what culture we’ll have, when it’s really over whether there will be a culture at all.

3 With no external referent, culture can only be the arena within which the will to power plays out. Battle is over whether we get to have any culture at all, or are merely pawns in somebody’s power trip. (Twitter is a poor place for this sort of ramble!)

And…. That’s about as deep and coherent as I’ve managed. You know, same old.

Distant kids save one have returned to distance. The one, younger daughter, will be with us for another week until heading back to frigid New Hampshire and Thomas More College.

I miss them already.

Vacation was hardly. Had plans to write a bunch, finish some stories, but with 30+ relations in town for grandmother Brilliant’s 80th and a couple events happening at our house, ended up prepping and cooking for days at a stretch. Then, this lingering ‘I don’t feel exactly right’ thing made writing pretty much impossible.

So, hoping things pull together. I could use some prayers about my job and other issues I need to address. Stress level is high.

But, hey, Happy, Holy & Blessed Epiphany! It is a beautiful and moving time, when the veil is near and sheer.

 

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Merry Christmas! 

May God bless you and yours with good cheer and peace on this holy day! 

Preparing a feast for 35-odd people (insert obligatory in laws joke here) and, having been on my feet for pretty much 3 days straight of shopping, prepping and cooking (40 lbs of pork butt and about 60-70 ciabatta rolls for pulled pork sandwiches, among other things), taking a break before rallying once more into the breach. 

Something like that. 

So, midnight mass, then Home to put the pork in the oven and bake the last couple batches of rolls, and in bed by 3:00. My beloved, who is part vampire or at least can get by on remarkably small amounts of sleep, maybe came to bed later – I wouldn’t know, as I was out cold and she was already up by the time I woke. 

We made coffee and tea, and the 8 of us – 4 kids, g-ma, aunt Clare in from Baltimore, my wife and I – gathered round the table to see what we got in our stockings.

My beloved commanded that I take pictures. She wasn’t any more specific. 

A rag I grabbed to wipe up some coffee I’d spilt on my laptop and shirt. It’s kind of like shorthand for all of Dickens
A close up of the water picture immediately in front of me. What may at first appear to be a lack of focus is, instead, an ironic existential cry of terminal ennui. That’s my story.
Still life with butter knives.

Some people are so hard to please.

Prayers, Thanks & Updates

1. Start it off with GKC:

The Americans have established a Thanksgiving Day to celebrate the fact that the Pilgrim Fathers reached America. The English might very well establish another Thanksgiving Day; to celebrate the happy fact that the Pilgrim Fathers left England.

Chesterton had a pure and white hot hatred of Puritanism. He granted that at least the old Puritanism encouraged reading the Bible, thereby populating young heads with heroes and warriors, feminine woman and masculine men – something new improved Puritanism has eliminated.

2. 5 years ago, our son Andrew’s death was a means of grace for a conversion. Here is Nadia Mitchell, convert from evangelicalism, being interviewed on the Journey Home:

3. Just yesterday, Mrs Yard Sale of the Mind and I were talking about Pat Bravo, a childhood friend of hers with whom she’d stayed in touch since they’d graduated high school and went their separate ways. She had not heard from Pat in months, even though Pat is the sort of friend to remember every birthday and holiday and unfailingly send cards at the very least.

Anne-Martine had left messages on the phone and had not gotten a call back. Finally, yesterday after our discussion, she tracked down Pat’s father’s number, and left him a message. He called back this morning.

Pat suffered a massive brain aneurysm on August 18th and died the next day. She had had brain cancer many years ago, went into remission after treatment, then had a recurrence, went into remission again, but I guess it finally caught up with her. She was 55, I think. She also had a rough personal life, with a husband who left her and strained relations with her family. She had moved a couple hours away, to Orville, where she’d bought an old house and spent her time fixing it up.

Now Anne-Martine is beating herself up for not having gone to see her this summer. This summer was super-busy around here, and the last conversations she and Pat had were looking at calendars and not being able to work something out.

Eternal Rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Pat’s death is the third among the small cohort of my wife’s friends from high school or before. Historically, I know having lost a large percentage of childhood friends by your early 50s isn’t all that odd. But it sure seems like a lot.

4. From the profound to the ridiculous: the cat, who spent 10 days in a vet hospital after having eaten a bunch of Nerf darts (stupid cat!) is now sleeping on my bed as I type. He smells like shampoo, which, given his condition and the laxatives they were treating it with, is a huge improvement. Huge. Improvement.

It’s almost like cats know what to do to reestablish bonds with their humans – humans who, in this case, are more than a little grossed out and lighter in the wallet as a result of said cat’s decision to eat toys. He’s been wanting to be carried around or lie on laps purring since he got back.

It’s working. Stupid humans. Remaining issue: he was in no condition to groom himself and neither were we there to brush his super-fine and long hair. So now he has mats, several in locations where brushing (or cutting – don’t tell the vet!) them out will be difficult. We’ll see how tolerant he is of people tugging on his fur in awkward ways and places. Did I mention he’s a very large cat with serious claws and a high 0 to shred them! time? Sigh.

5. Grateful for my family, faith and health. Grateful God has seen fit to make us not poor by any stretch – learning magnanimity sounds like a better draw than learning poverty. Grateful I live in a beautiful place in a time of peace and plenty. It would be small of me to regret having to share it with those Californians who give us the reputation we, unfortunately, deserve. Right? Give me a second to unclench my jaws. There, much better. The weather is really, really, nice – about 70 and sunny today, for example.

6. Heading off to Uncle John’s for family Thanksgiving in a couple hours. 3 out of 4 extant children are here. Anna-Kate, the younger daughter attending school in New Hampshire, is staying with her Uncle Patrick in Massachusetts with other family. She baked them pies – she’s very, very good at baking pies, or, indeed, baking pretty much anything. Lucky them.

However, Mrs. Yard Sale of the Mind, from whom Anna Kate learned to bake, is baking *us* pies. Lucky us!

Have a happy and holy Thanksgiving!

David Warren & Identity Politics

(Aside: Crazy busy, and under stress. Playing the piano gives relief; writing spirals to a stop as my mind clutters like a bridge downstream of a debris-choked flood. Hope to get back to blogging regularly soon.)

David Warren, here, says in part, in reference to the violence and vileness of combox warriors and pettiness of sports figures ‘protests’:

The nice term for this is “identity politics.” Mary Eberstadt, a writer and thinker I have long admired, has just written an excellent piece on the phenomenon under title, “The Primal Scream of Identity Politics” (Weekly Standard). She traces it very plausibly to the destruction of the family through the progressive innovations of the last half-century.

My own views run along this line. We have people from broken families whose identities are now acquired from other sources; people by now extremely uncomfortable in their own skins, who seek to blame someone. But all whom they could validly blame abandoned them in childhood; left them prey to the demonic influences of the very ideologies that brought collapse. Self-organized through the new social media, they now travel and hunt in packs. Or alternatively, moulder on opioids. Mandatory progressive schooling has likewise left them inaccessible to reason.

Truth is (TMI warning!) I’m a nearly antisocial introvert hiding behind a talkative exterior. Crawling off to be alone is my normal reaction to almost everything. So, I read, and think, and have a mind stuck on high – not high intelligence, exactly, just high RPMs, which is in some ways the opposite of intelligent. At least, I suspect it keeps me from wisdom more often as not. No small quiet voice has a chance in there.

I mention this to offer a lame (and no doubt boring – sorry about that!) background to explain my joy at finding people like David Warren and Mike Flynn. I often get the thrill of recognition when I read them, the idea that, however much better they may say it and understand it, I can still recognize in some of their writings the basic outline of ideas I’ve formed in the anxious tumult of my own muddled mind.

The above quotation is a prime case. I’ve said things like that here on this blog – not as well, surely, not as pithy. But I can’t help – I am indeed weak! – feeling something like relief. Maybe I’m not just some bitter crazy, cherry-picking a million pages to find the lines that confirm my nutty theories. Maybe some of this stuff is as obvious upon intelligent inspection as it seems to me.  One can hope. One can learn.

Don’t know how anyone could put up with me. Yet I have a wife and kids who love me. Talk about unmerited blessings! End TMI.

“We have people from broken families whose identities are now acquired from other sources; people by now extremely uncomfortable in their own skins, who seek to blame someone. But all whom they could validly blame abandoned them in childhood”. My God! I see this daily, the evil of parents (themselves recapitulating the damage they endured, sometimes running back 3 or 4 generations now!) enforcing their raw wills on their defenseless children. For what defense could a child have against his own parents? It is their lot to suffer, no matter the tepid surrender or violent rejection with which they react to the imposition of parental will. They thing they cannot choose is to not be hurt. A child can only take it and react. Rather than having parents share in and perhaps mitigate their suffering, the child receives that suffering from them in what can only appear an unnecessary and arbitrary act of will.

The kid doesn’t matter. His will doesn’t matter. His needs don’t matter. Only parental will matters.

No amount of pretend band-aides make any difference. No amount of apologies and new promises make the pain go away.

And everybody knows this.

They scream in anger and pain against an oppressor, who can be anyone besides those actually responsible. And then they, in turn, recapitulate until we reach a generation who have, as one wag put it, a dog and an abortion instead of children.

Weekend Update: Shield

Been busy. David, our 13 year old son, is now too old for that trick-or-treating nonsense, but not too old to want a cool costume to wear to school & parties. It so happens that the beloved Mrs. YSotM is, how do the kids put it? tots awesome at this whole costume/seamstress thing, and has been for a few decades,  so we’re often close to a great costume just based on what’s lying around the house. (The daughters have inherited this skill, and are therefore pressed into everything from costuming plays to modifying wedding dresses. A reputation for competency is a burden.) David once went to one of those fantasy cons down in San Jose, and Mrs. YSotM put together a wizard outfit for him to wear that had people stopping him and getting their pictures taken with him.

The bar has been set pretty high, in other words. Dad has wisely stayed out of it.

Until this year. As a fun project this summer, David and I made a couple fiberglass shields – one to screw up completely, and one sort of OK and usable. (I’d never done fiberglass before, so wanted to – probably funned out for life on goopy, messy, tricky frustrating projects – would rather do wood or brick stuff.)

Anyway, always intended to paint the shield something cool. David decided he wanted a winged sword, so he could use it with his St. Michael’s costume he envisioned for Hallowe’en.

Well. My one year of art school helped me become not totally incompetent in drawing, but we didn’t get to painting before I quit, and I frankly had little interest in it, so – nada.

The result of this minimal skillset is that was able to do a few pretty decent mock-ups in pencil until I got David’s sign-off, transfer the winner in pencil to the shield without much trouble – and then learn the hard way that going from pencil to paint is tricky.

It’s looks OK from > 10′ away. Just don’t get too close.

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Things I learned:

  • painters love oil paints and those expensive brushes for a reason. Trying to paint straight lines with gloppy latex using cheap little brushes that keep  shedding hairs – DON’T DO IT! Lumpy, uneven, frustrating.
  • The fancy gold leaf style paint uses a solvent that seems to dissolve the black latex paint unless the latex is really, really dry. Therefore, you’d want to put in on FIRST. Not, in other words, the way I did it.
  • Masking tape only slightly improves things. And it tends to peel off the black latex paint when you pull it up.
  • My hands are pretty steady. They could be a LOT steadier.

If I find myself doing any more painting like this, I’ll spend the money on decent brushes and paint. And maybe watch a YouTube video or three on basic technique.

David is pleased, though, and that’s what counts in these things.

Book reviews, more schooling stuff, as time permits.

Weekend Update: Brick Oven Blowout

On Saturday, the Caboose and I finished up a couple details on the brick oven: the Guadalupana shrine and the oven door.

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The Caboose putting on a 2″x2″ framing tile.

 

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Next time I’m doing stucco, I’ll stucco around this, hide the tile set and cinder blocks.

David (that’s the Caboose) was inspired: he tracked down a couple small statues of Mary to flank the big tile, and spotted some Guadalupana votive candles at, of all places, Home Depot. So now the image has candles and little statues, and will eventually have some flowers and plants growing in front.

Don’t think I posted a picture of the little ledge with tiles on it:

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Plan to tile around the edges, too – tentatively scheduled for May, 2020. Only slightly kidding.

Next, if you want to do bread in a brick oven (one that isn’t gigantic, at any rate) you need an oven door. Scrounged up some scrap oak, dragged out the trusty table saw, clamps and glue:

 

What doesn’t show: thin sheet of galvanized steel, 1″ layer of ceramic insulation batting, and another layer of steel bolted to the back of the door. That sucker is heavy! But worked like a charm. Only issue: around the top, the wood is already being charred – heat rising, and the seal not being perfect. All I can see to do is monitor the situation – can’t see an obvious solution at this point, and maybe getting charred is all that will happen?

Fired up the oven a little after noon. By a little after 3, we were cooking. First up: seared flap steak:

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Two steaks, One was a little on the rare side, the other a nice medium rare. Tuck a few slices into half a ciabatta roll, add deli mustard – it was good. Later, reheated the meat in a cast iron skillet, and it was all medium to medium-well done. Still yummy.

Per Alton Brown, you liberally salt both sides, then let sit for an hour to warm to room temperature, spread some 1000F coals, and throw the steaks directly on them! Paleo, dude! 45 seconds to a side, knock off any coals that stick, then lay the steaks on top of each other on foil, wrap snuggly, let rest 15-20 minutes, slice thin against the grain – and super yummy.

Also made pastrami for the less bloodthirsty among us:

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Next up: the ciabatta rolls. Shovel back the coals, sweep the ash to the back, and throw the raw dough right on the bricks:

 

Did you know that ciabatta can catch fire if it gets too close to those 1000F coals?

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I was concerned, a little, about the blackened mess, but – these crispy, chewy rolls were soon gone! Yummy, and I learned a thing or two, mostly about the inflammability of bread dough.

Next up: pizza!

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Goat cheese, tomatoes and basil on pesto. It got et.

Made 5 pizzas, one was a dud – you can’t use very runny sauce, tends to boil and dissolve the crust before the pizza is done – the others were quite good.

Also wanted to try baked potatoes, because it seemed weird:

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Coat in oil, salt, and wrap in foil. Put the dutch oven on the coals to preheat, add potatoes, slide back up against the fire. Takes about 30 minutes to bake. Didn’t try one, reports are the texture came out very smooth.

Finally, spread the remaining coals over the oven floor, closed up the door, let sit for almost an hour while getting the ciabatta dough ready. Then remove all the hot coals and ash (got a cool lidded metal pail for just this thing) sweep, then mop with a dripping rag, check floor temp – should be around 550F – and throw the bread in right on the bricks.

The mopping not only reduces the amount of ash you going to get on your bread, but also raises the humidity in the oven which, paradoxically, makes for a crisper crust. 20-30 minutes later:

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Delicious with a little of the sharp cheddar you can see at the bottom there. Crispy, light and chewy – good stuff! Could have been maybe a little browner. Next time!

To get proper use out of a non-commercial brick oven, one must dedicate half a day to prep, and all of a day to firing/cooking. So, invite a lot of friends over – we did, worked out well, weather was California perfect. Spent Saturday evening making the ‘biga’ – the sponge – for the ciabatta and mixing up some pizza dough.  Then cleaned up and set up and first firing. Guests started showing up around 2, cooking started around 3, and the last guests left after 8. Just hanging out on the patio and backyard, yacking and eating and drinkling.

A lot of fun. It will take me a week to recover.

Weekend Update: Pizza and Luther

Hectic. Intense. Ready for a break.

But found time for some fun! On Saturday, we had a couple religious sisters over for dinner and the night (they sell books at Catholic events, were over in the East Bay from their house on the Peninsula, had some more gigs lined up in the Concord area for Sunday morning early, and didn’t want to do the drive home late, drive back early thing – if you’ve driven around here, you will be sympathetic). Took the occasion to do more wood-fired brick oven pizza! Woohoo!

One thing the interwebs in their inscrutable majesty tell us is that every brick oven is different, and one must just keep using it to learn how your particular one works. Seems ours is on the large size for a pizza oven, because I also anticipated baking bread in it, and so made it large – it’s maybe half way between a pizza oven and a smallish bread oven, size-wise. This means that heat time is longer – took about 2 hours to get the floor up to 800F, a proper temperature for Neapolitan-style pizzas.  Even then, could probably have used another 1/2 hour to really load enough heat in the 1/2 ton or so of bricks, mortar and concrete that make up the oven, to do more than a few pizzas.

But it worked! Ended up making 4 pizzas, two strictly traditional – simple flour, yeast, salt & water crusts, crushed fresh tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, and a dribble of olive oil – and two with a little more adventure to them.

At 800F, takes 2 minutes or less to cook a thin pizza. We didn’t quite make it – it cooled to a bit over 700F by the time the pies hit the bricks – so it took 3-4 minutes (That’s why I think we need that additional 30 minutes of heating).

How do I know the temps? This:

Fancy-dan laser infrared thermometer gun! My son and I were taking the temperatures of anything and anyone who wandered into rang. Just don’t shoot them in the eyes! Fun gadget – always impressed by how technology works it way down, so that I have a very sophisticated computer masquerading as a phone in my pocket – with satellite GPS uplinks and access to the WWW.  And it’s just a phone no better than that owned by hundreds of millions of people. Here, we have laser and infrared technology combined into a little plastic gadget that can measure temperature up to maybe 16′ away – for under $30, price of a medium fancy lunch.

Amazing. Life can be fun, if you let it.

Rereading Lord of the World. It stands up to and might even require rereading.

Next up, while shopping for pizza ingredients, got a call from my daughter at Thomas More College where the juniors are now reading Luther.

She was exasperated – people fell for this? Luther is completely unconvincing and is borderline incoherent much of the time!

She said that she at least expected him to be a smart guy, making somewhat sophisticated arguments. She, like her father and mother before her, had been recently reading the likes of Augustine and Thomas right before running into Luther, and so had developed a very high standard for rational argument. It’s hard, in that context, to see Luther’s arguments as much more than the logical equivalent of a monkey flinging poo: you don’t like the Church – we get it. Anyone who disagrees with you is evil or stupid or both – right. Your arguments, such as they are and no matter how they torture understanding and context, are the simple and pure light of the Spirit shining through – gotcha.

So she called me to vent. She’d gotten to the reading – Christian Liberty – before her roommates, and had ranted to the empty dorm room – oh, come on! – then had the experience of hearing her roommates do the same when they got to the reading. And of course she’d grown up hearing me rant about how idiotic and vile Luther’s actual words are, as opposed to what people imagine them to be in that weird space he seems to occupy in Protestant mythology.

The hard part: realizing that the followers are sincere. Educated Catholic reactions to Luther’s arguments and claims have, from the very first, been something like: that’s utterly ridiculous! You have to cherry-pick and torture Scripture to get it to say that! You ignore all context, gloss over all history, dance around basic logical question – and then call your opponents names when they point it out! What a knucklehead!

Yet – yet – those who speak of his fiery style and manly vigor, who see him as this saint who lead the world back to real Christianity, truly do not see the ridiculousness of his arguments and claims. Educated Catholics have a very hard time arguing calmly in such an environment, where each page, each paragraph, presents another absurdity, overreach and attack on opponents.

But we must. I read an essay once by prominent Protestant theologian saying he had a hard time letting go of the beauty of the basic Protestant view of Christian life, and saw it as perfectly viable and comparable to the Catholic view – a matter of taste, as it were.

Wow. Just – wow. But he is an exception – in general, admirers of Luther follow Luther’s own example when reading Scripture when they read Luther – vast amounts of authority and value are given to certain selected passages, while the bulk of Luther’s writings are explained away or simply ignored in light of those cherry-picked passages.

So: I’m going to redouble my efforts to by sympathetic to Lutherans and their Protestant brethren who take Luther seriously enough to have read some of him. I’ll try to listen, and hear where they’re coming from. THEN I’ll start quoting Luther back to them! BUWAHAHA!

No, wait – I’ll be even more patient. I’ll try to plant one little seed – and then shut up, and leave it to God. Because, frankly, this is hard.

Then there’s the rank and file – people who have read little or no Luther, and so imagine him, based on reputation alone, to be sweetness and light itself. They, like the bulk of Lutherans since before Luther’s body was even cold in the grave, more or less ignore most of what he said without even being aware of it. His Bondage of the Will teaches a predestination that is every bit as extreme  as Calvin’s – yet Lutherans don’t typically talk like Calvinists in this regard. For example.

In one of those odd confluences so typical of Real Life(tm), on Catholic Radio this morning was an interview with a bunch of converts from Lutheranism and Protestantism in general who are recently back from taking a tour of Germany to visit the various sites associated with Luther. Needless to say, they were not your typical such tourists. As converts from the mish-mash fathered by Luther, they were much more prepared than I would have been to engage – and they, by the accounts they gave, were at least as brutal as I would have been.

One point one the guys made to a tour guide at a Luther museum: 60% of the people of Germany claim to be irreligious. Well? If Luther were such a positive religious influence, why have the sheep so relentlessly fled the fold, rejecting any fold? When the guide answered that it was Communism, he replied that Poland, right next door, suffered at least as much as Germany did under the Communists – yet, united in their Catholic faith, they remain a strongly religious people. Strong enough to lead the way throwing out the Reds.

So, there is that. I, on the other hand, have to reign in my tongue. Fortunately, I suppose, have not had occasion to discuss Luther with any of his admirers for a number of years now.