Concrete (and Wood and Steel) Sins

May God forgive us for modern church architecture.

Have we turned the corner on terrible church buildings yet? I sometimes think we have, but that may be just me putting the blinders on so I don’t have to look at this:

There is nothing to recommend this building. It is preposterous and ugly by any standards. That it claims to stand in the line of the many noble and glorious cathedrals around the world is an insult to our intelligence.

Or this:

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This building, on the other hand, is not so terrible in and of itself – it would make a daring convention center – and has been enholied by the beautiful masses celebrated there, especially by the current archbishop. But in and of itself, as a church? Not so much.

Or this:

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Wouldn’t this make a great Apple Store? The bomb-shelter greenhouse look will come back into vogue some day, eventually, and we’ll be ready for it! Not so ugly in and of itself, but insulting when compared to the thousands of much-beloved churches around the world.

and pretend they are anything other than hideous abominations, insulting to both God and man.

Ya know? Or this:

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Berkeley Newman Center. If it weren’t for the sign out front, you’d be hard-pressed to identify it as a church. Looks like a detail from rejected plans for the Maginot Line.

The bomb shelter look was big. I remember reading about the Los Angeles Cathedral, how they took care building it to last 500 years at least. This is achieved by deploying thousands of tons of concrete and steel. Unlike many ugly parish churches, which probably have a 50 or so year life expectancy before the repair/tear down calculations starts to get (mercifully) interesting, these monstrosities are built to last. If the goal was to burn through the Church’s money while saddling her with repulsive buildings for generations or centuries to come, the outcomes would not have been any different.

The L.A. Cathedral is in a class of its own – there’s just no redeeming it, artistically. It is a giant, $200,000,000 middle finger to the Catholics of L.A. To get rid of it is almost impossible. I fantasize that a billionaire might come along, buy land next door, and build a huge beautiful Neo-Gothic or Romanesque Revival church, seamlessly incorporating influences from Mexico, the Philippines, Asia, Africa and so on in order to honor the remarkably world wide nature of L.A.’s Catholics, and then offer it to the diocese. The underlying tensions would thus be exposed. And L.A. would get a nice church.

At least in San Francisco and Oakland, one gets the feeling they were trying for something good, even if they went about it under the constraint that whatever was built must rebuke the pre-Vatican II church. The unhealthy compulsion to be different, which has lead to many bad fashion decisions and questionable tattoos on a small scale, leads to stuff like this when writ large:

These are a few of the approximately 800 louvres, I guess you’d call them, that make up the walls of the Cathedral of Christ the Light.

Louvre mania! And an imposing image peeking past the cables and braces!

These features appear to be slabs of laminated 2 x 12s, bolted to laminated uprights(1) with some seriously industrial looking galvanized hardware and bolts. They would make excellent work benches and picnic tables. Here? Oh, I’m sure there’s an artist’s program somewhere that describes how they are meant to let in the light in some deeply meaningful way that only a uncultured peon would fail to understand.

The effect is just weird. Like I say, not irredeemably ugly, just – weird. With 2,000 years of church architectural experience to draw on, this is what you do? Only if hell-bent on rejecting all that collected experience and wisdom.

I cherish my visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, and my many visits to Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity at Thomas Aquinas College, as both buildings are very beautiful and built in the last decade or so. Beautiful and appropriate churches can still get built, if people want to build them.

Obligatory note: over the centuries, many people have pushed and pulled church architecture in many different directions with greater and lesser success. Gothic, after all, was an innovation at one time. I’m not wedded to any particular style or approach, as long as it strives to embody the true, the good and the beautiful. For a century now, many architects have actively rejected those ideals. Such should not be let anywhere near a church design project.

Final funny (at least to me) moment: Youngest son and I were visiting the Oakland Cathedral for a Boy Scout function, when a mom came up to me (I was just sitting there! Minding my own business! I swear!), pointed at the huge image of Christ Enthroned, and asked: “What is He doing with his right hand?”

Somebody thought a 70 foot tall heavily pixelated image of Christ partially obscured by structural members was a good idea, the dominant and central statement of the building. Right.

I answered honestly that he was giving a blessing, and that such images – Christ enthroned giving his blessing – are quite common. She was hesitant to accept this, but eventually gave in. “I thought he was flashing a peace sign. I was afraid they’d gone hippy on us.”

“I have no comment.” I smiled.

  1. I have to think the external frame, or a steel core to the uprights, or most likely both, are actually holding this thing up. Those louvres have got to be heavy.
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2018: Let Me ‘Splain…

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Life is good. Having breakfast (Huevos Rancheros with both red and green New Mexico chile sauces – the only way to fly) with our kids and their grandmother on a cold, crisp Sunday morning after attending a lovely Mass together – what more is there to life in this world? I am indeed blessed.

Elder daughter is off being courted at the moment. Nice young man. Elder son is studying. He had a meeting yesterday with his thesis advisor – at our home! Seems he and his wife were up in the area to visit a brand-new grandchild, and so came over to visit. Charming an intelligent conversation ensued.

Younger daughter is having that experience I’ve warned them about: the reward for competence is getting more work. We are for the most part a competent family, and end up organizing, executing and cleaning up after a lot of things. It’s worth it, but can get exasperating at times. Beats the alternative. She (both daughters, actually) is an excellent seamstress. A young lady who teaches at our school and has been staying with us for the last 2 years is getting married, and younger daughter volunteered to make her wedding dress. She loves doing this sort of thing, but it’s a big job.

Wedding dresses tend strongly toward the ‘more involved’ end of the dressmaking spectrum. So, this being our daughter’s only real break between now and the wedding, as she will be writing her senior thesis during the 2nd semester of her senior year, she is trying to get it done this week. So, since she should be doing her seminar readings now, my beloved wife is reading aloud to her while she sews.

Younger son, the Caboose, is indulging in some video games. I need to take him Christmas shopping, since he’s the only one who can’t drive himself and we will be having our gift-giving on January 1. We had it on Epiphany for many years, but recently the kids have been drawn away to jobs and school, so we tend to have it on the last day everybody is here – New Years Day this year.

On Thursday, we met up with a young family visiting San Francisco. College friends of elder daughter. After lunch, we had only a couple hours to show them around, and chose the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park. This is a 140 year old large wooden greenhouse stocked with rare tropical plants and flowers, the oldest public collection of its kind in America. They have dozens of different carnivorous plants, including some pitcher plants whose traps could hold a good size bird or rat. Funky looking.

I took a few pictures. They aren’t very good. If you want to see good pictures of flowers, check out Zoopraxiscope.

Wacky-looking yellow spirally flowers on a typically weird tropical plant. You know, I suppose I could have taken a picture of the little placard, and thus told you what this here thing is. I’ll try to remember that in the future…
Tiny yellow orchids. And plenty of ’em. They have lots of orchids, too, in the less sweaty/drippy rooms.

2018 was an interesting year:

  • Our middle two kids completed the first half of their senior years at Thomas Aquinas and Thomas More. Have two graduation to look forward to in 2019 – on opposite coasts one week apart. Of course. I’m a happy daddy.
  • Singing in a Sunday choir for the first time in over a decade. The relentless poor quality of the music and the lack of any aspirations to sing anything better drove me off. But a friend got a twice a month job doing the Saturday anticipatory mass, and she’s doing chant and Watershed stuff, so I’m now in. Didn’t realize how much I missed it.
  • Youngest son progresses with violin. He can fiddle up a storm. He also decided on his own to join Boy Scouts. The particular group he joined seems good, and has not yet completely fallen to PC nonsense. He needs 3-4 years to make Eagle, so if the troop can hold out that long… He loves the outdoor activities and getting to hang with some relatively sane kids his own age.
  • Home Improvement projects proceeded at a crawl. Got a few thousand more bricks to lay out front, and some wrought iron-style fencing and some rails and steps to put in. Did make the carcass for a king-size bed platform out of oak veneer plywood. Unfortunately, had to press it into service before I had time (and decent weather – have to work on projects this large outside) to finish it. Therefore added another threshold to overcome before finishing it: taking it back out of the bedroom. In my mind’s eye it’s very nice, sort of reminiscent of Mission style. As it is, it’s a big plywood box.
  • Didn’t read nearly as many books this year as the last couple. Plan to remedy that.
Collected in one pile the reading materials I’ve pulled off the shelves over the last few months to read or reread. Now located next to a comfy chair by a window. That helps.
  • Did get almost done (what is with me and getting near the end of books and not finishing? I’ve not always been this way…) with Polanyi – what a load! – and a couple education books (dreary for the most part). Did read – and even finished! – a half dozen SciFi books this year. But, man, gotta pick up the pace. I spend an unproductive amount of time reading materials on the internet. Some are critical, such as source materials on education. Others – not so much. Must remedy this as well.
  • Continuing with an hour or two of piano just about every day. Got Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique to the point where I can hack my way through it. Only took me about 12 months. Now, if I’d just put in another 6 months, I might get it to the point where I’d not be embarrassed to play it for somebody. Also worked up some rag time and a couple fugues from the Well Tempered Clavier. Tried a little Chopin, but – looks like a lot of work. So, maybe. Or maybe some more Beethoven or some Shubert. It’s fun
  • Over the last 6 months, made a miserable effort to get disciplined about writing. I could blame a series of minor injuries/illnesses, and there would be some truth to it, but many people have written through as bad or worse, so – no escaping it. I tried and failed.
  • On the other hand, did finish at least rough drafts of 3 stories, wrote several thousand words on the Eternal Novel of Infinite Enertia, and did a ton of blogging. There is that. But it’s not enough, not by a mile.
  • Lost my job June 30. I’m 60, 4-5 more years and I could have retired. Now? Got to come up with some way to get us through the next decade financially. No call for sympathy here, we’re doing way better that most people, it’s just I thought I had it licked, and – not so much.
  • Medically interesting year, which one does not want. Gone are the decades during which I never missed work and rarely had so much as a cold. Again, nothing worthy of sympathy – I’m just getting old and paying the price of letting myself go. I suspect regular exercise, eating like I’m sitting around all day instead of like I’m heading out to plow the south forty, and the related loss of, oh, 100 lbs, and I’d be a lot better off.

All in all, life is good. Good marriage, family I’m very happy to be a part of, no more than the usual amount of issues and problems. Can’t complain.

For 2019: We’ll see about writing some more. I could use a spiritual director. A job or some other income would be very good. Some discipline around food and exercise is required (hmmm – this sounds strangely familiar…) Reengaging a systematic prayer life would no doubt help. Pray, hope, and don’t worry, as St. Padre Pio put it. Yea, like that’s gonna happen. But nothing is impossible with God.

We wrap up 2018 tomorrow by finding an Adoration chapel to spend the last moments of the old year and the first of the new, then Mass, presents, breakfast and teary goodbyes to the older 2 kids. *sniff*.

Then we run it back for 2019! Interesting times. Good, but interesting.

Holiday Baking Season Prep

 As mentioned on a number of occasions, my family likes to cook.  My wife and daughters (and my late son) specifically like to bake. Now, I can made bread or biscuits from scratch, and have made any number of pies over the years, but – it’s that whole Ricardian comparative advantage/best use thing – I  don’t usually do the Thanksgiving and Christmas baking, as I’m surrounded by better bakers. 

That being said, there is a lot of prep work in pie, tort, and Christmas pudding making. That role has fallen largely to me. 

Candied Orange Peel, simmering away. It’s what I’m working on at the moment. 

Prep starts at Halloween. We avoid the giant hollow orange pumpkins sold specifically to become decorations, and instead make our jack-o-lanterns out of more tasty varieties. My job is to help with the carving and then, as soon as the last trick-or-treater is off courting insulin shock, to bake the pumpkins until soft. The next morning, after they’ve cooled, I prep the pumpkin flesh for freezing, filling little baggies with ready-to-go pumpkin pie filling ingredient.

Pumpkin thawing in the sink. Two cups each, enough for one pie. Got 4 more in the freezer for Christmas.

My kids probably didn’t know pumpkin even came in cans until they left home. Which is as it should be.  

Today, I’m making candied orange peel, a key ingredient in my wife’s Christmas pudding (with brandy butter sauce. And she sets it on fire right before serving. It rocks.) Once, years ago, I was sent to the store to get baking supplies, and candied orange peels were on the list – and Safeway had none. I said to myself, I said: how hard can it be to just make some? Ya know? So I found a recipe or 90 on line, and tried one that didn’t sound too bad. I mixed it up – we had candied grapefruit peel (excellent – one wants to, and often does, eat it like candy), candied lemon peel, and lime peel (meh.) in addition to candied orange peel. 

Unfortunately, making candied citrus peel takes several hours, and you can’t really wander off, or you’ll get rock candy or orange peel soup. Make a few varieties, and you’ve burned much of a day, for one critical but minor ingredient. However, I’m now the candied peel guy in the house, it’s tradition, and far be it from me to buck tradition. 

Then there are the apple pies. One must first peel a boatload of apples. This task also largely entrusted to me. 

Apple pies in potentia, waiting to be most fully actualized. A couple of pies worth. 

A mere 3 hours later, I now have the orange (and a small batch of mineola) peel drying. 

Mineola peel. Because I had some lying around. They’re weird. I expected them to be pretty much indistinguishable from orange peel, but – no. Not sure I even like them. Probably be good in stuff, however.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll dust them with powdered sugar, pop them on ziplock bags and toss them in the freezer – good through next Easter’s pascha and kulich.  

Weekend Update: the Sierra Leaves Me In Stitches

My head is starting to clear enough to at least think about doing some reading and writing. Let’s see if I can get this blog back on track.

A. My dear brother-in-law and his family in San Francisco invited my mother-in-law, who has been living with us over the last 16 months, to spend the weekend. This freed the more ambulatory contingent of the household to do some Nature, in the form of swimming at Clark’s Hole near Auburn, California, near where the American River’s branches conflux (that should be a verb!) on their way out of the Sierra.

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Looking back at the Old Forrest Hill Road from the Lake Clementine Trail. About the last bit of water you can see at the top is the spot where the Middle Fork meets the North Fork of the American River. The South Fork confluxes (It’s a verb, I say!) a little further down in Folsom Lake, a huge reservoir.

About an hour 40 minutes east of Concord, CA, the city of Auburn lies in the Gold Country on the old Gold Rush road called, appropriately, Highway 49. A couple miles south of town, the road descends to near the bottom of the river canyon, where Old Forrest Hill Road splits off. A ranger station sits just west of the bridge pictured above; the Lake Clementine Trail starts on east side.

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Offspring heading down the Lake Clementine Trail (the lake is another reservoir). That bridge, 730′ above the canyon floor, has been seen in many movies when a dramatic car-falling-off-a-bridge scene is called for.

Up the trail, under the impressive bridge, about 3/4 mile in is Clark’s Hole, a deep, slow-moving piece of what is otherwise a white-water river. Who Clark was has been lost to history, but this swimming hole has been in use as such for well over 100 years.

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Looking down at Clark’s Hole from the trail. That little rock cliff overlooks water 25-30′ deep, and is ideal for jumping. A passel of teenagers showed up later, and, after the manner of their kind, spend a couple hours jumping off those rocks. My offspring took a few turns. My beloved and I gave it a pass.

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Down by the water. Clark’s Hole runs quite a ways up the river, but only here near the end are there both easy-ish access and places to sit along the shore.

A good time was had by all, despite the 100F+ temperatures. The water was refreshing, but, thankfully, not the fresh snow melt temperatures these rivers coming out of the Sierra tend to be. About 7 years ago, we camped on the Stanislaus River in July, farther in and higher up, to be sure – the guy at the campsite told us the snow had finally melted off on July 4. The water was COLD. Here at Clark’s Hole, the water has been melted off and held in Lake Clementine for a few months now, so it’s not bad at all.

All would have been near perfect, had I not slipped on some mossy rocks and fallen, ending up with a gashed hand (5 stitches between my ring and middle finger on my left hand) and some very sore ribs. But, hey, I’m alive. It only hurts when I laugh. Or cough. Or reach for something. Or get up. Or sit down…. All it cost in the end was a copay at the emergency room and a couple more hours under the tender ministrations of the medical establishment.

(aside: while I have done my best to avoid the medical establishment – people who do so tend to live a lot longer! It’s science! – I’ve had interactions. This is the first time I’ve ever had a medical professional tell me: ‘this is going to hurt quite a bit’ and ‘keep breathing or you’ll pass out.’ What occasioned these comforting words was having painkillers injected into my hand so that she could stitch me up. And – hell, yea. It’s almost like your hands are a collection of highly sensitive nerves designed to enable mankind’s incredible fine motor skills, such that jabbing a needle in there and pumping in stuff HURTS LIKE HELL. Almost exactly like that.)

B. Got a little farther on the brickwork out front.

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Looking north.

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Looking South.

I one sense, this is an exercise in seeing if I can make use of ugly bricks. The back wall farthest from the street is made of those ugly concrete bricks people mostly use as pavers. The front wall will be made of those extra tall construction bricks. It will be double wide, capped in standard clay bricks, and topped with a 3′ wrought iron fence. There will be a 1′ wide planter between the walls. As we scavenged free bricks off Craig’s List, I ended up with many concrete and construction bricks; by building this wall/planter and its twin to the south, hope to use them up in an aesthetically pleasing way.

In the meantime, the fencing arrived.

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All I have to do is finish the planters to get them off our front porch. Sheesh.

C. We’re reading aloud Lord of the World and Lord of the Rings. Probably should start Lord of the Flies to keep the theme going? JK. While Tolkien is a sure crowd pleaser, I’m happy to report that the kids, age 20 & 14, are digging Lord of the World as well. It’s a very early – 1907 – dystopian apocalyptic novel told almost entirely via the internal lives of the main characters, at least over the first third to half. That you can get and hold young people’s attention with such a thing is remarkable, but Benson is a very good writer telling an remarkable story.

Almost finished that r/K is politics book. Will have stuff to say about it. It’s – something else.

Then, as energy and attention allow, back to the massive to be read stack.

D. Spent much of the first month of my involuntary unemployment dealing with health issues. Boring stuff, nothing life-threatening except in the way that mere health is life threatening if you let it go on long enough. Say, an additional 20-30 years, in my case. If I’m lucky.

My main complaint is tiredness, weakness and muddleheadedness. Adjusting the blood pressure meds did seem to deal with the sleepy part, however I’m still weak and have a very hard time focusing for very long. Been spending inordinate amounts of time on Twitter (I follow a bunch of SciFi writers, Catholics, Catholic SciFi writers, friends of Catholic SciFi writers, and so on) – 240 characters is about the limit of my focus. Match made in Hell.

But according to medical Science! my heart is good, a relief since at my age, my father had already had a massive heart attack resulting in quadruple bypass surgery and early retirement. So thank goodness. (Of course, he then lived to 88. I should be so lucky.)

Anyway, if my head clears up and I’m not feeling so weak all the time, should be able to return to reading and blogging. Let us hope.

2nd of July Update

A. Made a little progress on the 3rd year and running Never-ending Front Yard Brickwork Project of Doom:

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Got the forms removed, added a couple feet of brick walk. I needed to see how it looked before deciding exactly where to position the column that will hold up the fence. Thinking the column should be about 4-6″ in front of the wall, to add a little articulation. Yes, I’m that geeky and obsessive.  

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This gives some idea where we’re going with this. Column on the end where the rebar is sticking up, 8″ (2 bricks wide) wall along the front nearest the street, 12″ planter in the middle, 4″ wide wall in the back. 3′ tall iron fence runs down the middle of the 8″ wide 16″ tall wall, flanked at either end by a brick column. Then, after the gap for the water meter, an identical set up on the other side. Fearful symmetry. 

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Oh look! A row of bricks for the 4″ wall! The Caboose and I threw them down just now. 

It will be extremely cute, with a little orchard behind it and climby plants in the planters, maybe some rosemary hanging down. Hope I live long enough to enjoy it…

B. Speaking of which, still ill. Still think it’s at least partly the blood pressure drugs, but to be honest I’ve gained a frightful amount of weight over the last 25 years, to the point where I need to own that that’s most likely the root of the problems. So, I’ve cut calories by about 1/3. All I need to do is keep that up for a couple years,,,,

It would be good to get some regular exercise, but that’s tricky when I can’t count on feeling up to it at any regular time. Getting long walks in when I can. So I’m logging blood pressure readings several times a day, keeping track of when I take the meds and how I’m feeling. Then when my doctor gets back after the 4th, we need to talk.

No reading, very little writing – mostly just this blog. Concentration is intermittent. More apologies to my beta readers – I am grateful and will get back to you soon, I hope.

C. Finally, got laid off from my job of 21+ years. While not the prime cause, I don’t think, being unable to focus or even stay awake at work helped things. So now I have about 5 months to find another job before I have to start in on my retirement savings. Wish me luck. Say a prayer if you’re into that sort of thing. I’m in much better shape than most people who go through this sort of thing, thank God, and I’m frankly glad to get out of what has long been a deteriorating work situation. But it’s no fun.

Bombax and Our Lady of Grace 

In St. Petersburg Florida for an industry convention. On the lawn of the Museum of Fine Art there’s this bombax tree: 

No leaves this time of year, but a zillion giant red flowes. Impressive.

Also, a little over a mile away is St. Mary Our Lady of Grace, a lovely octagonal church I’d visited before years ago under similar circumstances, but failed to get pictures of this time. 

Aaaand – that about sums up the highlights. Off to Tampa and a flight home.  More book reviews coming up soon. 

Sunday Driver

Ok, I’ll own up to doing a classic old guy thing: a couple years ago, at age of 58, needing a commute car and no longer having a full passel of kids to haul – I got a convertible. A 2010 VW Eos. Didn’t spend the retirement money or anything -6 year old car. Low miles, super well maintained. I can pretend to justify it, but – nah. Whim.

Well. Old balding guy with a slightly girlish hardtop convertible (our 20 year old daughter puts way more miles on it than I do, when she’s in from college – it looks good on her.). Trouble is, with a 10-15 minute commute and busy weekends, when do my girl and I get to tool around with the top down, wind in what’s left our hair, looking cool?

Last Sunday, we were surprised to find that we actually had a few hours in the afternoon unbooked. It was 70F outside, sunshine, and the recent rains followed by a couple weeks of sun had turned the Brown Golden State green.  We headed out to a road that winds around the far side of Mt. Diablo.

Mt Diablo
From Concord, we take Clayton Road past Clayton, then Marsh Creek Road out through Morgan Territory. Turn around and head back.

On the map, the roads all show as tidy white lines. On earth, once you get a couple miles in on Marsh Creek Road, you’re on a single lane of bumpy paved road that tends to get washed out in places in rainy years. Two cars can squeeze past each other in many places; in many places not.  It gets wider and better paved at Morgan Territory Regional Preserve, then drops down to Livermore Valley from there.

Mt. Diablo is pretty dramatic. We, however, were winding about its flanks and foothills, so the beauty was more subtle.

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Looking back toward the mountain from the Morgan Territory Regional Preserve

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Windy roads. Sun-dappled and all.

It was fun. Didn’t feel like a kid again or anything, but it was fun driving with my sweetheart.

Onward: We had discussed doing beans and rice for Lent as a family this year. Now, cooking at the Casa de Moore typically runs from pretty good to excellent, so beans and rice are not exactly likely to be much of a sacrifice. The Caboose, soon to be 14, wanted to be involved. I said we should do a batch or two before Lent so he can get the hang of it.

Cajun Red Beans and Rice:

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It was good, especially for a kid’s first try.

Enough. I’ve got a bunch of reviews to write, and politics and science and Science! provide endless hours of terrifying amusement. Back in the saddle.