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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Memories of St. Sylvester's Feast Day

In Switzerland, St. Sylvester's Feast Day was known as Sylvestertag.  One can read about the life of Pope St. Sylvester in other  places; here I shall relate the how the Swiss observed the celebration of Sylvestertag.  In particular, I shall relate how my brothers and I celebrated it while we were living in Switzerland 'way back in 1972.  At that time, we were living in a small village called Dürnten, located in the Canton of Zürich.  Cantons are sort of like states in the U.S., only that Switzerland is closer to the size of some of our states.....

I did find a reference which almost matched what we did.  One thing which I can't reconcile is that I thought that we celebrated Sylvestertag before Christmas rather than after.  Either way, it was quite an interesting activity for an eight year old boy:

Since Silvester Abend, or “Sylvester’s Eve,” is also New Year’s Eve, many Germans and Austrians hold late-night parties. In Germany these festive gatherings may include drinking, eating, dancing, singing, and fortune-telling.

 The only thing I don't recall seeing was fortune-telling.  This party started out in the wee hours of the morning, and ended up at the village school.  We attended the local public school, but there were no problems with having a 'Christian' celebration on the premises.  Read on:

In at least one Swiss town—Urnäsch in Appenzell Canton—bands of 'mummers' known as “Silvesterclausen” still parade through the streets in costumes, bells, and headdresses on December 31, as well as on St. Sylvester’s Day Old Style, which falls on January 13. They visit homes, yodel three times, and are rewarded with wine by the occupants.

That's what I recall, with some modifications.  I remember getting up in the early hours of the morning, maybe around 2 a.m., and joining up with my classmates as we went through the village making noise.  We did more than yodel; people were banging on drums and using cowbells to wake up the occupants of the village.  When I say cowbells I am referring to the huge Swiss cowbells, rather than the puny cowbell used in the infamous 'more cowbell' skit.  Here is a selection of Swiss cowbells; we were using the larger ones:

Another difference is the whole issue of wine.  Most of the children already had wine to drink as they made their way toward the school; most of them were also smoking.  This was the most bizarre part of the festivities, even if all my classmates were two years older than me.  Our parents forbade us to smoke or drink while we were out that morning.  They wanted us to try smoking and drinking alcohol under controlled conditions where they could be present.  More on that later.

Even better than wine were the little treats and cakes which we got from the homes.  I don't recall what they looked like, but this is the best image I could find when I googled images of Sylvestertag.  It looks like a half-eaten donut:

Around daybreak, we arrived at the school, where my classmates performed skits and played music for our entertainment.  It is the only time that I really enjoyed accordion music.

Several days later, at home, our parents let us try smoking cigarettes.  They gave us four boys a pack of cigarettes and let us try them.  I didn't like it, probably because I was inhaling.  Ever since then, I have had an aversion to smoking.  I have only smoked a few cigars since then; the most memorable one was a Cuban cigar which I tried while on temporary duty in El Salvador back in 1998.

Then a few days after trying smoking, our parents allowed us to try drinking alcohol.  Vermouth.  We diluted it with ginger ale, or some kind of lemon-lime soda, but I still recall it as being nasty.  

Sylvestertag was one of many adventures we had while living in Switzerland.  While it was one of the more bizarre things we saw while living there, it still was great to see how other cultures live and celebrate.

Me, Francis, Fr. Denis, and Matthew.  Patrick was to arrive five years after this picture was taken.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Sunday Obligation to Attend Mass Abrogated

(Zeeeeenit)  In a move that surprises no one, the United States Conference of Clandestine Catholic Bishops (USCCCB) has determined that since Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, members of the Catholic Church do not have to attend Mass on that day.

For the past several years, the USCCCB has abrogated, or eliminated, the obligation to attend Mass on Holy Days when that Holy Day falls on either a Saturday or a Monday.  In the case of the Feast of the Ascension, or Ascension Thursday, observance of that Holy Day has been moved to the following Sunday in most diocese in the United States.  Some say that the elimination of the obligation to attend Mass on Christmas when it falls on a Sunday is just the next logical step for American Catholics.

Our source for this story, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, stated that this would open up the opportunities for Catholics everywhere to enjoy the day more, without having to get dressed up and leave all the presents behind for a while.

"Christmas is a busy day," our source said, "and there are a lot of things to do that day, like opening presents, watching football games, and going to movies which open on Christmas Day.  Think of the kitchen fires which could be avoided by keeping the whole family home while Christmas dinner is cooking.

"We at the USCCCB are making this decision for the good of the Church; I mean, heaven forbid you should have to go to Church more than once a week!"

We are trying to verify this story.  Due to the immediate ramifications of this pronouncement, we decided to go ahead and publish it beforehand without verification.  The only source we have discovered which refers to this issue is at this website.

The Holy Days of Obligation as observed in the United States are:

For those of you who have read this far, of course this just a joke.  There is no USCCCB as far as I know, and yes, you do have to go to Mass this Sunday.  Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cattle Fever Hits the Homestead

Last weekend we were invaded by eight Angus cattle from the neighboring piece of property.  They came over the fence sometime during the night, and so we all woke up to a small herd of cows on the back six acres.  We were all excited; since the cows weren't bothering anyone, and they were confined to the back property, I did not do anything about them.

Here is a picture of the cows when we first noticed them:

I zoomed in on the cows with my iPhone.  Just like a box camera, the sky is whited out and the cows show up as little black silhouettes.  The grass looks brown from here, but as you will see later, the grass truly was greener on our side of the fence.

They roamed all over the back property; at times we could barely see them as they disappeared into the tall grass along the eastern fence line.  That is where there are a lot of bushes and trees which provided shade for the herd which occupied our land before we bought it.

In the afternoon, I started to think that these poor little cows were wandering around with no water to drink.  I called the neighbor and told him that his cows were visiting.  While I had him on the phone, I asked him a lot of questions about raising the cattle.  I was already beginning to imagine my own little herd on my back property....... 

He came over a few minutes after we got off the phone and led them back onto his property.  At first he whistled to them, and they all ran to where he was.  He tried to lead them, but our children kept on moving about, which seemed to confuse them and make them stop.  Our neighbor then got a feed bag (maybe Purina Cow Chow?) which really got the interest of the cows again.  They responded quickly to the sound of the bag being shaken.

I ordered my children to stop moving around, and the cows left without incident.  Well, actually one of my children was heartbroken when he saw them leave:

Sure enough, the cows returned after a brief time.  They really were interested in the fresh green grass on our land, and this time they had just pushed over another part of the fence.  Our neighbor told me that we needed to put a string of barbed wire along the top of the fence line so that they would feel that when they started to push over the fence.

I walked along the property line, inspecting the barbed wire and the T-posts.  I noticed right away that the majority of the posts were loose, and when I wiggled them it sounded as if they were sloshing around in mud.  I surmised that the summer's drought had made the clay-filled soil pull away from the posts, and that the recent rain had softened up whatever was hold the posts in position.  The cows took advantage of this, pushing over the fence without bending the posts.  Unfortunately, the fence was not low enough to allow them to return to their land.

Another interesting thing about this incident was that, true to the herd instinct, once one cow went over the fence, they all followed.

Here the cows strike the usual pose of a cow.  They always look as if they were caught off guard, and to me they always look as if they were a bit embarrassed, with almost a 'sheepish' look on their faces.

These cows ate grass, made fairly good sized cuts into the topsoil, and left some fertilizer in lieu of compensation for our troubles.

Our neighbor plans on breeding the cows.  His little herd consisted of two bulls, five heifers, and one little steer.  I told him I would love to help deliver any calves; it has been more than 20 years since I delivered a baby...........

Here is the video of the children and I moving among the cows.  They were very well behaved, probably because the bulls weren't trying to pursue the heifers, and there were no calves around needing to be protected.  I shall have to warn the children about how things may change shortly.

Back to the video:

Bernard has no fear.  Scary.

I left the cows alone that night. The next day, Sunday, after morning Mass, I went out and led them back to our neighbor's land. It really got me excited about getting some cattle of our own. But first, I would have to reinforce my fence and set up a watering system for them.

All of this after I set up the chicken coop and range.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

We Try Indian Food

I have wanted to take Carolyn out to an Indian restaurant for a while.  I have only been once before, but I found the food to be excellent.

It was while I was visiting my brother the Priest at his parish in Alexandria, Virginia.  Nathaniel, my then-16 year old son was on this trip with me, and for dinner we joined my brother and some of his brother priests at The Bombay Curry Company.  We told the waiter that we had never eaten Indian food before, and so the good folks there picked the menu for us that night.

The food was great, the company was excellent; it made a lasting impression on Nathaniel and me.  The food was spectacular, and we discovered something called Na'an bread, which is like a thick tortilla shell for all the people reading this back home in northern Mexico.  Each entree was delicious, and we used the generous supply of Na'an bread to clean our plates.

In addition to the food, we had the pleasure of hanging out with a bunch of good priests who spent the time talking of theology, the challenges of running a parish, and basically the nuts and bolts of being a Catholic priest.  It was neat to hear priests 'talking shop' as they related some of the mundane tasks which they have to conduct while still being an alter christus for their parishioners.

So, almost two years after that trip, I finally decided that if I could not get to an Indian restaurant, I would at least try to bring the food home for all of my family to try.  I went to the best place I could think of in order to purchase the most authentic Indian cuisine we could make at home.  I went to Target. 

That is not pronounced, Tar-get, as in 'road tar' and 'get out of my way.'  No, the 'g' is softer, sounding more like the 'j' in the word 'Jaguar' as in 'I'll take the silver Jaguar for my birthday, love.'

Say it with me: Tar-jay.

So there, nestled in with the Mexican foods section were some boxes of containing a side dish, a sauce, some basmati rice, and chutney. 

Tikka Masala: "a creamy tomato sauce, basmati rice with spiced potato curry and mango chutney:" 

Red Garlic Curry: "tomato-garlic curry sauce, basmati rice, with tender green lentil stew and mango chutney."  The lentils were really tender; whenever I make lentils, they are either still hard or have turned to mush.

Vindaloo: "spicy onion-ginger curry sauce, basmati rice with spicy potato, peas saute and - you guessed it - mango chutney:"

I knew that some of the children would not try much of this foreign food, so I made the food up with some chicken to go along as the main dish.  I made the rice which came in the boxes, adding a little butter and some Chicken/tomato bullion for flavoring.  Genevieve, my oldest daughter at home, cooked the chicken.  She put curry powder on some of it, and I put a sweet pepper glaze on the rest of it. 

To cover our gastronomical backs even more, we purchased some Na'an bread from that other source of Indian food in our neighborhood - Costco.  One of my sons saw it in the store last week, and so we checked to make sure they still had it.  Thankfully they still had enough for our family. It appeared as if we would have enough food to satisfy my little army, and let them try something new and different.

After looking over the directions, and finding there were no ugly surprises (such as, "soak beans in goat milk for 24 hours before cooking"), I noticed that most of the sauces, curries, and side dishes needed only a little time in the microwave to prepare them.  So while the chicken cooked and the water and rice started to heat up, I poured each part of the meal into a separate bowl and covered them with saran wrap. 

Sauces were in green bowls, and side dishes were in blue bowls.  The diet Coke was mine and I don't know why the apple sauce insisted on getting into the picture.  The Na'an bread is in the background, waiting to hop into the oven for a little warming up.

I used both microwave ovens to heat the bowls up really quickly, and then had it all set on the sideboard.  Here, Nathaniel makes a plate.  He approved of the meal.

Even Bernard liked it, even though my iPhone camera did not focus on him for some reason.

As I expected, there were some children who did not like it.  Some children preferred one dish over another, while a few like Nathaniel and I like everything.  The good thing is that they all tried a little bit, and they all got enough chicken and rice to leave the table satisfied.

Of course, everyone loved the Na'an bread.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Reasons to NOT Homeschool

Here is a link to an article which asked children what they thought about being homeschooled.

Yes, it's dated a bit.  But it is still worth reading.  Some of the more choice comments included such gems as:

"In my opinion, i would never turn to home schooling. When you are home schooled, you automaticly loose the whole social experience of school. In the real world you need to be social. Otherwise you’re going to get know where. I understand that the learning education might be to an advantage while homeschooling because its all one on one and you are the only student reciveing all the help you need whenever you need it. I would never home school my child because I would be holding them back from friends and the social life they will need in the feature. I would never even consider home schooling. "

"I would never want to be home schooled because you are not able to socalize with your friends at school. If you dont meet or talk to anyone, people might start to make fun of you because you have no friends that hang out with you. You might be smarter if you are home schooled but you still will not know how to make good friends if you get accepted into a college where you are met with other kids. If your are home schooled and you go to college you will fell as if the class is going too slow or if you know something before other kids then you will be frusterated that you are learning the same thing and nothing new. Overall I think that home schooling is not something that you should consider because you are not social with other kids, and later on in college you will not learn as much as you should be learning."

Ah, yes.  The social life.  A social life where every other confounded word is just another confounded word which can be confoundedly used as either a confounded adverb or a confounded adjective depending on what kind of confounded thing you are trying to say.  No confounded thanks, I say.

  Granted, home schooling is not for everyone, but ultimately the parents are responsible for assuring that their children are educated in the Faith as well as the basics of Readin' Writin' and 'Rithmetic.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A New Blog

I made a blog just to compile my book reviews.  I shall populate it with my book reviews over time.  I shall also keep posting book reviews here.

Why the redundancy?  Just because I can, I guess.

Have a blessed Advent.

Oh yes.  Here is the blog name and a link:

Praise Of This Book

The title is from The Path to Rome, by Hillaire Belloc.  He titled the forward 'Praise of this Book,' and started it out with this greeting:

"To every honest reader that may purchase, hire, or receive this book, and to the reviewers also (to whom it is of triple profit), greeting--and whatever else can be had for nothing."

I hope you like it.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Book Review: Sensitive Sam

Sensitive Sam

Marla Roth-Fisch

Future Horizons, Inc.

Sensitive Sam is a cute little book about a little boy with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).  Every page consists of a quatrain describing events in the life of a child who is having trouble dealing with things which don't bother most people.  Mrs. Roth-Fisch completes the book with her excellent illustrations of Sam as he deals with dressing, eating, and going to school.  Sam begins working with an occupational therapist, and with some changes in his routine at home and school, he is soon learning to grow and learn in school.

This book is excellent on several levels.  First, it could help the child with SPD see that others have the same challenges, and that they can be overcome.  Second, this book could help explain to other children in Sam's family - or class - what SPD is, and how they could help their sibling or friend.  This book will help all children understand that SPD should not be frightening, and that it is treatable with a bit of work, and a lot of love.

This book reminded me of some of the issues we had with Theodore, such as his preference for only wearing short pants.  This was not a big problem when we lived in San Antonio, and while he was young, but after moving up to the Dallas/Fort Worth area it took a while to get him accustomed to wearing long pants.  He also had a lot of food preferences; vegetables were a challenge for him, and he ate ketchup with just about everything.  Just like Sam, Theodore managed with a lot of patience and love - especially from Carolyn.

The end of the book has a glossary and a list of websites for those interested in reading more about Sensory Processing Disorder.  I recommend this book without reservation for those families with a child with SPD, and also for grade schools.

Stephen M. Donahue
December 9, 2011

Politically Charged Time-Out

An old Air Force friend sent me this a while ago.  I just read it, and thought you might like it.  It is called 'Ode to the Welfare State,' and it is best read by clicking on the picture to embiggen it:

Sigh.  Things haven't changed that much.....

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Coffee Update

Tully's Coffee Decaffeinated House Blend Extra Bold was excellent.  I did have some problems where the coffee would clog up the process and then flow out from the whole brewer, but Keurig sent me some new coffee shots and the problem resolved.

On Friday, I had to drive somewhere post-call, so I made a cup of coffee in one of our cardboard 'to go' cups.  I specifically bought those cups - going against my Completely Green Policy - because all our travel mugs leak coffee like an overloaded diaper.  So I was extremely disappointed when the lid worked its way off and dumped coffee all down the front of me. 

Fortunately, there was a nearby discount department store near our first errand, so I went in and bought a new shirt - along with a tie, handkerchief, and cuff links.  I switched shirts and a bathroom, rinsed out the stain in the dirty shirt, and was a new man when I picked up Carolyn a bit later.

Anyways, I shall add Tully's to the list of Keurig coffee cups I would buy again.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

St. Nicholas Day Party

We went to the St. Nicholas Feast Day Party at Mater Dei Catholic Church in Irving today.

We put together some food and some ornaments that the children made, and got a table to sell our wares.  At first, business was slow.  I thought it was because of the economy, and people were inclined to watch their money a bit closer.  I also thought they may have been worried about the local version of 'Occupy Wall Street' might drop in to protest the corporate greed of the family-based Catholic entrepreneur.  All I need is to have 'Occupy Mater Dei' show up and insist that we distribute the goodies we made for free to all the people who can't find a job.

Thankfully that did not happen, and after a while we started selling.  I think people took a look at everything before deciding on purchases.  We had a near monopoly on food, so things went well.  For a time, the homemade 'sleighs' were literally FLYING off the table.

Here Zelie takes a break in the action to wolf down a sandwich before the next onslaught of consumers:

We sold candied pecans - not our own pecans, sadly - and brownies, cookies, banana bread, and blueberry muffins.  We sold two types of Christmas ornaments: some were plastic ones where you bake them in the oven to fill the colors of the ornaments.  The others were made with barbed wire from our property, shaped like Texas, and then backed with felt pieces that resembled the Texas flag.  Here is an example:

But the biggest sellers were our sleighs, made with small candy canes, KitKat candy bars, and either a little box of Nerds or Junior Mints.  With little bit of ribbon and tape, we made them into the shape of a sled, or sleigh:

The kids covered the Nerds or Junior Mints with aluminum foil.  As I said, these treats literally flew off the table.

There were craft projects for the children to do, and a little train which rode around in the parking lot.  The rain put a damper on the outside activities right around the time that the inside show started.  Here Bernard, held by his Godfather Nathaniel, watches a puppet show featuring large mice and a nun that sings.  He was fascinated by it.

The final part of the show was when St. Nicholas showed up.  Here he is, exhorting the children to be good:

Here are three of the children ZelieLouisa, Maximilian, and Marcellinus watching St. Nicholas, looking a bit bored.
I missed them greeting St. Nicholas, so I had them come back up for a picture.  This was really inconvenient for Max, so this is as close to a smile as I could get.
The man who portrayed St. Nicholas, the German dancers, the puppeteers, all made it a wonderful day for the children.  Well done!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Seventeen Years Gone

I wrote about this subject before.

Seventeen years ago, three of my colleagues and friends died in a helicopter crash in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They were the crew of an air ambulance, a helicopter, which was headed out to pick up a critically ill patient.

This was the moonlighting job I had while I was in residency and fellowship.  Most of our transports were for cardiac patients, folks who had recently suffered a heart attack and were being moved to a hospital where there was a cardiac catheterization lab, or failing that, a cardiac surgeon.  This was pretty routine for us.  The rest of the transports were 'out in the field,' and could be anything: motor vehicle accidents, gunshot wounds, whatever.  These were far more exciting, because you never knew what was waiting for you when you hopped out of the helicopter while the blades were still spinning above your head and you tried to anticipate what you would find when you did reach the patient.  I like to think of those transports as if I were reaching into a box of Cracker Jack: sometimes I got the cheap stickers, but every now and then I would pull out something really exciting.

I was scheduled to fly the day after the helicopter crashed, so I thank God I was spared, allowed to go on caring for my wife and children and my patients.

I recall the local newspaper published a picture of one of the dead being lifted out of the aircraft in a body bag.  Sic transit gloria mundi.

Here is the kind of helicopter I used to fly in. This is one outfitted for flight in Switzerland:

Months after the accident, while working a shift at this moonlighting job, I came across a passage in Wind, Sand and Stars, a book by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  It was about the loss of one of Saint-Exupery's friends, a colleague and a fellow pilot.  He writes:

Bit by bit, nevertheless, it comes over us that we shall never again hear the laughter of our friend, that this one garden is forever locked against us.  And at that moment begins our true mourning, which, though it may not be rending, is yet a little bitter.  For nothing, in truth, can replace that companion.  Old friends cannot be created out of hand.  Nothing can match the treasure of common memories, of trials endured together, of quarrels and reconciliations and generous emotions.  It is idle, having planted an acorn in the morning, to expect that afternoon to sit in the shade of the oak. 

So life goes on.  For years we plant the seed, we feel ourselves rich; and then come other years when time does its work and our plantation is made sparse and thin.  One by one, our comrades slip away, deprive us of their shade.

There is more to what he says, but I invite you to read it yourself.  Upon re-reading this passage tonight, it appears that human relations were the most important thing for Saint-Exupery.  I would have to disagree; I would put our relationship with God to be far more important.  If one loves God, then it makes it easier to love one another.  If we are alone in this world and yet have the love of God, then we find that we need nothing more.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery was not perfect, but I always remember in his book The Little Prince how he would test every friend with a picture he drew when he was a child.  He used it to see who his true friends were by how they would respond to the picture.  In the same way, our son Theodore was sort of a litmus test for determining who was a true friend.  Like Saint-Exupery, we are deprived of Theodore's company and shade in our garden.

 Please, in your mercy, remember to pray today for the repose of the souls of Richard Elliott, Janice Nowacki-Tobin, and Terry Racicot.

Eternal rest grant unto them, oh Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them.  May their souls, and all the souls of the Faithful Departed, rest in peace.

Our Lady of the Mysterious Decapitation

Our Lady of the Mysterious Decapitation
Now restored with the help of some cement!

Prayer to Our Lady of the Mysterious Decapitation

Mary my mother, take my hand today, and all days.
Lead me away from all occasions of sin.
Guide me in fulfilling your last words in the Gospel,
"Do whatever He tells you."

I am An Amateur Catholic Blogger!

Amateur Catholic B-Team Member