In Your Easter Bonnet

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Yesterday at Easter Sunday Mass, I saw something I hadn’t seen in a long time: Easter bonnets! As a female growing up Catholic in the 60s, I was well aware of the requirement that all girls and women cover their heads when entering the church. We girls wore small circlets of lace called chapel veils while some women wore long, flowing mantillas, a Spanish veil. In a pinch, my sisters were known to bobby pin a piece of Kleenex to the tops of their heads!

But at Easter, we got a brand new hat to wear with the pastel Easter dress my mother had sewn each of us girls. I loved my “Easter bonnets” and, remembering them from my own childhood, bought them for my own daughters when they were little. But over the years, wearing hats to Mass has become uncommon. The Catholic stricture for women to cover their heads was removed in 1983. No doubt the chapel veil and mantilla manufacturers cried.

So I was delighted yesterday to see several young girls sporting wide-brimmed white straw hats to complement their Easter dresses. But the piece de resistance was the mother of two bonneted girls, who walked into church sporting a large pink confection that would be perfect for Ascot or the Kentucky Derby. They sat in a pew next to us, and I dubbed them the best dressed family at Easter Sunday Mass.

I realize that hat wearing is still common at some other Christian churches. And Orthodox Jewish women wear hats to synagogue. But for the most part, decorative, fanciful hats for women are a thing of the past. I can’t say I’m all that sorry. I don’t look good in hats and wear them primarily for warmth in winter – or occasionally to shield my face on a hot summer day.

But I do kind of miss the grandeur of the annual Easter bonnet. After all, it inspired a song by the great Irving Berlin. Maybe the bonneted ladies at Mass are starting a trend. Maybe next year I’ll brave it and wear a fanciful hat myself.

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How Sweet It Is!

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I’m sorry to say that after giving up dessert for the 40 days of Lent, I haven’t lost my sweet tooth. On the eve of Easter, I can almost taste those dark chocolate marshmallow eggs I crave.

I was really hoping I’d lose my taste for sugar, villain number one according to the latest nutritional advice. It’s sugar, we are increasingly being told, not fat, that we should be avoiding. And I think that’s because as with many things in life, we take our love for sweetness too far.

In the olden days, sugar was a luxury item. It was used sparingly to sweeten coffee or tea. Mother might bake a cake for a special occasion, but people otherwise didn’t get much refined sugar in their diets. In wartime, sugar was one of the things that was rationed.

But as modern technology made all kinds of convenience foods available and cheap, sugary foods and drinks became ubiquitous. One of the biggest sources of calories in the American diet comes from soda pop, which is loaded with sugar. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in particular is a molecularly altered sugar that is believed to interact in harmful ways with the human body. (Thanks for that science-y info, cousin Trish!) And HFCS is the main ingredient in most sodas.

And switching to diet drinks does not seem to help people lose weight in the long run. I think that’s because the artificial sweeteners still make us crave sugar. And I think that is behind my annual failure to curb my sweet tooth during Lent. Not having banished all sugar from my diet, I still want it.

Sugar is synonymous with fun and celebration. Every party features sweets: from birthday cakes to Christmas cookies to Easter candy. When I was a child, in the evening while we watched TV we were allowed to pick out a candy bar for “treat time.” Dessert was always the reward for having eaten those horrible green beans. Sweets are the stuff of childhood dreams. Why else would Roald Dahl have written the fantasy Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Why else would the Brothers Grimm imagine a candy-studded gingerbread house to lure the unsuspecting Hansel and Gretel into the witch’s clutches?

Tomorrow the Easter Bunny will leave some delicious chocolate at our house. Luckily, the treats the Bunny brings are far too pricey for me to wolf down in one sitting. So I’ll pace myself (and share with the family). I may never conquer my sweet tooth, but let’s hope my Lenten abstinence from them will help me better appreciate the delights of sugar.

As Shakespeare would say, “Sweets to the sweet!”

Notre Dame, Notre Coeur, Notre Ame

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556629-istock-852755038_primaryThe sight of the venerable Parisian cathedral Notre Dame on fire filled onlookers around the world with horror and sorrow. Unlike most of the disasters that make news worldwide, this one thankfully involved no loss of life. And yet the dismay so many of us felt on Monday as centuries-old treasures of art, architecture, and religion threatened to go up in flames was only too real.

Across the Seine, the crowd broke into spontaneous prayer and hymns as they watched smoke billow up from the spire of the medieval cathedral. To imagine a Paris without the iconic edifice complete with gargoyles and flying buttresses was, well, unthinkable. Notre Dame is one of the most visited landmarks in the world. Hundreds of people have been posting photos and memories of their own visits to Notre Dame since its very existence became imperiled Monday. The wealth of art and the breathtaking feat of engineering that has held up the 12th Century structure for so long are irresistible for art lovers, historians, and even casual tourists.

But Notre Dame is first and foremost a monument to the Catholic faith and the devotion of its followers who risked life and limb to build such a beautiful and imposing structure.  Catholics hold a special place in our hearts for Mary, “Our Lady.” No doubt many Catholics fervently begged Our Lady to intercede with Christ to save her namesake church.

I have nothing but admiration for the tireless efforts of firefighters to contain the blaze and limit the damage to Notre Dame. Much in the same way as the builders of Notre Dame in the Middle Ages, these courageous Parisians risked their lives to save a building. Luckily only one firefighter was injured while working to put out the flames. Still, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of divine intervention in saving the venerable cathedral.

The fire at Notre Dame has brought public awareness to three other fires that occurred in the past two weeks at historically black churches in Louisiana. The fires were no accidents, however. They were incidents of arson, and a white man has been charged with hate crimes in connection with the destruction of the three historic places of worship. A Go Fund Me campaign has since raised $1 million for reconstruction.

All of this has occurred in the midst of the Lenten season and Holy Week, the preparatory 6 days before Easter, the Christian celebration of resurrection and new life. In the past few weeks the flames of hatred and destruction have raged. On Saturday night, the flame of the Easter Candle will be lit at churches all around the world to symbolize the return of the Light of the World, Jesus Christ.

The response to the fires in Louisiana and Paris, whether religious or secular, has shown that the human spirit will always rise up to champion goodness, beauty, and hope. A fitting message for the Easter season and the arrival (finally!) of spring.

 

Londonderry Air

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Derry-Girls-Ep-2-2054-1068x623In honor of the wearin’ o’ the green and all things Irish today, St. Patrick’s Day, I’d like to recommend a hilarious Netflix comedy called Derry Girls. The comedy series was not on my radar until my very Irish friend Maura recommended it on Facebook. In no time at all, I had binge-watched my way through the trials and tribulations of four teenage girls and one male English cousin living in Derry, Northern Ireland, in the 1990s.

The featured teens in Derry Girls have a delightful mixture of innocence and bravado as they navigate the social scene in their Irish Catholic enclave. They don’t realize how economically disadvantaged they are until they try to sign up for a school trip to France and find out that none of them has a trust fund, and in fact they are all quite poor.

But their economic and social limitations do nothing to cramp their irrepressible style, and each episode features new shenanigans and repercussions from their parents and their school. The girls (and cousin) attend an all girls Catholic high school presided over by a scene-stealing nun, whose dry wit and jaded attitude make her the perfect foil for both troublemaker and goody two shoes alike.  When the girls fall for a dreamy young priest, Sister’s facial expressions alone are priceless.

It seems unlikely to find humor in a show about a divided country that pitted Protestants against Catholics and in which car bombings and assassinations were commonplace. Indeed, toward the end of Season 1, things take a darker turn and only deepen the viewer’s appreciation for the life-affirming and youthful spirit of these young people.

So grab a pint of Guinness, put your feet up, and enjoy an episode or three of the fabulous Derry Girls. Your Irish eyes won’t be the only things smiling!

 

Phat Tuesday

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koJYM-1.So.79The crowd inside my favorite neighborhood bakery this morning could only mean one thing: suburbanites stocking up on paczki – those over-the-top Polish doughnuts filled with all kinds of sweet things – and king cakes, the traditional rings of pastry favored by New Orleans residents to celebrate Mardi Gras. I, of course, had to pick up my share of these delicacies for one last hurrah before giving up sweets for Lent.

Tomorrow begins a six-week season of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. While our meatless Fridays and traditions of giving up something we enjoy for Lent feel painful, other Christians, particularly Orthodox and Eastern Rite faiths, have much more stringent rules for fasting during Lent. Many eschew all dairy products and meat for the duration of Lent. Some fast every morning until noon. Compared to these dedicated believers, I’m a piker.

I also must confess to the somewhat selfish motivations behind my abstinence from sweets. I’m hoping it will make me slimmer, healthier, and less addicted to sugar come Easter Sunday. Still, I find it important to mark the season with some sort of sacrifice.

So “Fat Tuesday” has become a fun day of indulgence for me and my family. Around the world revelers will be celebrating in grand style. There is, of course, the legendary decadence of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, where the streets are littered with beads and partiers drink too many hurricanes. And the granddaddy of all festivities is Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, where millions of people parade through the streets in outlandish costumes and the party lasts 5 days.

Compared to those festivities, my plan of pigging out on king cake and staying up late to read the latest John Grisham thriller seems a little tame. Still, I plan to indulge myself, enjoy myself, and laissez les bons temps rouler!

 

A Day For Love

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All the complaints about the commercialization of Valentine’s Day may be true. It’s overhyped, a “Hallmark holiday,” and an excuse to sell overpriced flowers, chocolates, and jewelry. Still, there’s something sweet about a red and pink holiday celebrated smack dab in the middle of the winter doldrums – and a celebration of love, no less!

Valentine’s Day helps remind couples of the romantic feelings that brought them together. It’s a day to break the cycle of taking our significant other for granted and do something nice for him or her. Going out for a nice dinner together, cracking open that bottle of champagne you’d been saving, surprising him or her with fresh flowers. All these actions can signify our appreciation for the one we love.

And these forms of appreciation need not be costly. Offering a back rub, taking a long walk, or watching a favorite movie on TV together can be just as romantic as an expensive night out or a piece of jewelry. Cooking her favorite dinner or whipping up a special dessert for him are wonderful ways to say you care. Just putting down those phones and really talking to each other. There’s an idea!

I’m a sucker for greeting cards. I can spend hours in the aisles at a store perusing the selections for just the right message for the ones I love. Yes, commercial greeting cards have gotten ridiculously expensive, and many people don’t want to waste upwards of $5.00 on a piece of card stock. But exchanging valentines is still a sweet and romantic gesture. You can always swipe a card from the sets your kids are using for their classmates and pen a message of love to your loved one.

Kids have the right idea about celebrating Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day should be heavy on candy, cardboard hearts, stickers, paste and glitter. I have fond memories of addressing valentines to all of my grammar school classmates and bringing them to school in the tissue box “mailbox” I’d decorated with hearts and flowers. I made sure to choose just the right greeting for each child (nothing too mushy or romantic for the boys!).

Love in all its forms should be the focus of today. After all, it’s really a saint’s feast day. St. Valentine was known not only for bringing young lovers together but for helping the poor and downtrodden of society. So let your Valentine’s Day spirit overflow with hearts and joy and love for the people in your life. I guarantee that love will come back to you many times over.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

 

Feeding the Soul

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Although I don’t really like to cook, I love to feed people. There’s nothing more gratifying to me than to set out a meal and have my friends or family members enjoy it. And while I myself have a tendency to pick at my food, I love hosting a person with a hearty appetite, one who cleans his or her plate and asks for seconds.

There’s something fundamental about meeting a human being’s need for food. Mothers the world over begin the process with their infants almost from the first moment they are born. I loved the close bonding of nursing my biological children, but I also loved bottle feeding my adopted child. In fact, one of the most frustrating parts of having young children is how difficult they can be about mealtime at certain phases of their lives. They thwart their parents need to nurture them with food.

Communal meals have been a feature of every human society from time immemorial. Families and clans have always gathered around campfires and tables to share food and companionship, to bond and feel safe and nourished. Every celebration involves food, and food is the focal point of holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Passover, and even the Fourth of July. At my parish Bible Study, we always have a table full of treats. If someone forgets to bring them, we get downright cranky.

The joy of feeding people can extend outward to those in need. Most communities have thriving food pantries, and many have soup kitchens, places where the homeless, the underemployed, and the struggling of our society can go to receive sustenance. Of all the charitable acts I can think of, nothing comes close to the fundamental gift of nourishment through feeding people.

During the recent government shutdown, business owners and ordinary Americans opened their hearts, their wallets and their doors to furloughed workers in order to provide them groceries and hot meals. Say what you will about the divided state of our nation. When push comes to shove, Americans will step up and help each other fill our most basic human needs.

If you come to my house, chances are good that I will try to foist some kind of food on you. It gives me such pleasure to watch people enjoy the food I’ve made – or even just bought and unwrapped. As Elizabeth Berg writes in her wonderful novel The Story of Arthur Truluv, “It’s something to feed somebody who is so in need of eating. It’s something to feed somebody, period.”