Tuesday, July 24, 2012

To-die-for mud pie

When Chiara's birthday rolled around this year, she opted for pie rather than cake for her party dessert. Initially I thought, pie?!? I'm not a huge pie fan, and, as my sister-in-law and I have discussed, you're either a pie person or you're not. Well, if you're not a pie person, this pie will make a believer out of you. Because it's not "real" pie; it's mud pie. Thick, chocolate-y, creamy mud pie. It's got layers of chocolate graham cracker crumbs and chocolate ice cream shot through with chocolate fudge and chocolate chips and covered in chocolate cream. What's not to love?

The recipe for Ray's Mud Pie, believe it or not, is from a Disney cookbook that ties in with the Princess and the Frog movie: Tiana's Cookbook. It's the perfect summer splurge.

20 whole chocolate graham crackers
6 Tbl melted butter
1 Qt Chocolate ice cream
1/2 cup chocolate fudge topping
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup powdered hot cocoa mix

Seal the graham crackers in a large plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin until they resemble dirt. Stir 1 1/2 cups of crumbs into melted butter. Pour the mixture into a 9-inch pie pan.
When the crumbs have cooled, press them against the bottom and sides of the pan to form pie crust. Freeze the crust for 20 minutes.

Scoop half the ice cream into a bowl and let it soften about 10 minutes. Then spread it in the chilled crust. Dig eight holes in the ice cream and fill with a tablespoon of fudge topping "mud." Freeze the crust for another 10 minutes.

Stir chocolate chips "rocks" into the remaining ice cream and spread it over the pie. Return the pie to freezer for 10 minutes.

Beat the heavy cream at high speed until cream begins to thicken. Add cocoa mix and beat until it begins to stiffen. Spread the whipped cream evenly over the pie and sprinkle with the remaining cracker crumbs.

Wrap the pie in plastic and freeze for 3-4 hours before serving. Serves 8

Monday, July 23, 2012

A week without Facebook, and why I'm back

Last week, for the second time in a month, I decided to deactivate my Facebook account. I've taken brief sabbaticals from social media before, but closing my account, even briefly, made it feel more drastic, and I wanted and needed drastic.

My most most recent break lasted about one week. Mainly I wanted to get away from the habit of Facebook, but I have to admit that it went deeper than that. I was doing some soul searching, and I really started to ask myself, "Who cares if you made a delicious farro salad last night? Who cares what your kids did this weekend? Who cares about your crazy work deadlines?" I started to believe that perhaps Facebook is nothing more than a modern-day version of navel-gazing at best, narcissism gone mad at worst. And so I deactivated, hoping to discover that Facebook was totally unnecessary, even for those of us who kind of need it for promoting books, posting blogs, and spreading the Good News.

The first day went by without much fanfare. Although I'd occasionally walk over to my computer, thinking I'd pop in to see what everyone was up to, I didn't really miss it. In fact, it was a welcome break. But issues began to mount pretty quickly after that. I couldn't even update or access my own author page because you need a personal page to get to it. Dennis had to post my blog entries for me. Oh the tangled webs we weave. Within a couple of days, it became apparent that this sabbatical was going to be more difficult than previously expected and possibly detrimental to my real-life friendships.

One friend's mother died. Another friend's sister was suddenly faced with life-threatening illness. Another friend asked for prayers for a little girl on our prayer list because she was in a fight for her life. I knew about these prayer needs only because Dennis was getting them through his own page and was forwarding the really important stuff to me via email. Suddenly I started to realize that Facebook has become a significant part of my spiritual life. I know it sounds crazy, but it's true. I don't even know how many other prayer requests (not to mention delicious recipes, inspiring quotes, and funny clips) I might have missed while I was away.

I also began to miss my distant friends, people I love but only get to "visit" and see through Facebook. Without my news feed, I had no idea what they were doing or if they needed anything or if they had any wonderful news to share. I couldn't even email some friends and neighbors because my only access to them is through social media. Maybe that says more about my contact organization system than it does about Facebook, but, either way,  I need this outlet to connect, especially since I'm already so isolated in my home office.

And so I reactivated, tentatively at first, posting only birthday wishes for my baby because who could argue with that. I still haven't decided what I want Facebook to be in my life or how much time it deserves, but there's no denying that it has its place, and an important one at that. So if I missed your birthday or some other important life event, please know I wasn't ignoring you; I was just deactivated, and I missed you all.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Happy Birthday, baby

Seven years ago today my beautiful and brave Chiara Elizabeth was born. Seven. Where did the time go? Seven years ago at this time I was waiting for my castor oil cocktail to kick in so I could bring on my extremely overdue delivery without being induced via IV. Called my midwife, told her what I did and to expect me later that day. Right around noon labor kicked in, right on schedule. At just about 7:30 p.m, Chiara entered the world, and what joy she has brought to our family ever since.

I've written a lot about the benefits of being an older mom -- I was just about 43 when Chiara was born -- because every day I am the one who continues to learn new lessons from this fearless little being. Just a few weeks ago Chiara's absolute courage at the top of the Shotgun Falls at a Wildwood water park inspired me to go down on the chute next to her. Two days ago she insisted on going off the diving boards at the town pool, something I have yet to do. Although I am often hesitant to let her do things out of my own fear, she will have none of that.

Her enthusiasm and sensitivity, her courage and kindness teach me on a daily basis how to be a better person. Happy birthday, baby. I love you, and I'm so glad I decided to forget my old age and become a mom one more time.

Here's a snapshot view of Chiara's life:

Thursday, July 19, 2012

You can get there from here

My July Life Lines column, now running in Catholic New York:

I’m not really a fan of the popular GPS navigation systems designed to get you from Point A to Point B with no advance planning. I just don’t trust the technology. Give me “Mapquest,” with its printable directions, or, even better, a good old-fashioned road map. Remember those?

Dennis bought a portable GPS for our van a few months back. The first time I had to travel out of state, he loaded it up with my destination coordinates and told me I had nothing to worry about. Since I always have something to worry about, I went on the computer and printed out directions, studying them before I left home so I would know if our GPS, whom we affectionately refer to as Katniss in honor of the Hunger Games heroine, decided to lead me astray. Every time Katniss would bark out a command, I’d run through my mental directions to ensure we agreed on the route. I was prepared, at a moment’s notice, to go my own way.

Dennis, on the other hand, trusts GPS Katniss implicitly. On a recent trip to the Bronx Zoo, a path he has driven many times to a neighborhood not far from where we used to live, he decided to defer to Katniss when she instructed us to get off the highway and take an unknown route through New Jersey. I said, “No way,” when I heard her instructions. Dennis said, “Let’s see.”

Maybe if our GPS could show me in advance exactly what she had planned, I’d be able to handle the sudden switch, but going mile by mile, never knowing where she’ll take us next is just a little too much for my Type-A, obsessively planned out existence. I want to be in control. I want to know all of the twists and turns at the outset.

Wait a minute. That sounds familiar. I seem to take the same control-based approach in my spiritual life. One of my biggest spiritual “problems” has to be my inability to trust I will get to my destination -- my destiny -- without knowing the exact route, and maybe even with some annoying physical or spiritual detours along the way.

So much of our spiritual journey is about trusting that what’s ahead will get us where we need to be, where we’re meant to be, even when the path seems totally off course and through a terrible section of highway. We want to stay with the tried and true: the prayer methods that always used to work, even when they no longer seem to be working; the tight-fisted hold of the spiritual reins, when what God really requires is a loosening, a surrendering; the days we fill with spiritual and mental “busywork,” instead of sinking into silence so we can better accept and understand why we’re being told to take a turn into uncharted waters.

Every time I find myself heading in a spiritual direction that feels unfamiliar or like a possible dead end, I begin my own version of the GPS “recalculating” default. I start trying to figure everything out so I can right my listing ship. I seek out books that might give me answers, work myself into a spiritual tizzy with anxiety over what might be coming next, talk till I’m blue in the face in hopes of figuring it all out.

The day we went off course on the way to the Bronx Zoo, it looked like Katniss had won the day, and then we hit the inevitable standstill traffic due to construction. I felt myself tense up, thinking we would have been just fine if only we’d stayed with our usual route. But we still got there, and in plenty of time to catch the sea lion feeding, as we had hoped. We just didn’t get there the way we originally planned. And maybe sometimes that’s half the fun -- in life and in prayer.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

What would you do if you were fearless?

"Do one thing every day that scares you." -- Eleanor Roosevelt

This moth makes me think of that quote from Eleanor Roosevelt. Imagine how fearless this little moth must be to land on the hand of a giant human. Anything could have happened. But there he is.

What would you do if you were fearless? Where would you land? Do one thing today that scares you. It doesn't have to be as big as stepping out into some totally unknown and possibly dangerous place. Start small. But start.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Happy Birthday, Olivia

Twelve years ago (actually the real anniversary happened at 2:57 a.m. today), I was waiting -- not so patiently -- for my second born to arrive. She was a week overdue and predicted to be quite large. They were preparing to induce me since my blood pressure was starting to rise. But I didn't want any medication whatsoever. So my wonderful midwife -- the same one who helped me birth Noah -- called me up around 7:30 p.m. on July 5 and told me that if I really wanted to do this without intervention, I could drink a castor oil-orange juice-baking soda cocktail and see if it worked for me. I drank it about an hour later, and around 1:30 a.m. I woke up in hard labor.

With Noah labor went on for a while. The first time around, I ate an egg breakfast, took down our Christmas tree, paid some bills and did some cleaning, all with contractions about five minutes apart. I expected more of the same with Olivia. When Dennis called the midwife around 2 a.m. and told her I was already on the floor, she told us to high-tail it to the hospital, which we did -- with me insisting that we could park in the regular garage instead of emergency. But, fortunately, calmer heads prevailed and we parked in ER, zoomed up to labor and delivery and waited for my sister to arrive to watch Noah and the midwife to arrive to catch the baby. Midwife got there and immediately put on scrubs, which confused me since I expected to walk around and breathe heavily for a while. Nothing doing. We called my sister to find out why she wasn't there yet (We wanted Noah present for the birth but knew we needed an adult to keep an eye on him). The car was still parked in ER. The camera was nowhere to be found. Noah was shoeless because of our mad dash out of the house. It was all a blur.

Less than 30 minutes after I entered the hospital, and only minutes after my sister arrived to hold Noah's hand, Olivia Irene blasted onto the scene -- all 10 pounds of her. I don't really even remember pushing. Maybe once. She just powered her way out and then proved herself to be a champion nurser to boot.

Twelve years later, I look at my girl in amazement. She is smart and funny and beautiful and artistic and athletic and curious and kind and all of the things I had hoped she would one day be. She was a gift when she arrived in that Austin hospital in the wee hours of the morning, and she is a gift today. We are blessed. Happy birthday Olivia. We love you. Here's a brief look at Olivia's life in photos...

Her baptism in Austin in the chapel at St. Edward's University with Deacon Orton and godparents Aunt Linda and Uncle Fred:

At E-ma's 90th birthday party almost ten years ago:

Thursday, July 5, 2012

And the not-so-mindful Jersey Shore

While the mindful side of the Jersey Shore is something special and under appreciated, I would be remiss if I did not also mention the totally mindless side of Wildwood. It's like the yin and yang of shore vacations.

We're just back from our second trip to Morey's Piers. We braved it this afternoon in 95 degree heat in order to get two-for-one rides. Lots of waters and Polish Water Ices were had. 

Without further ado, here's the fun and noisy side of the Wildwood...

See that upside down, corkscrew coaster in the photo above? Dennis is smack dab in the middle of it, feet flying through the air.
 Yes, they truly will deep fry anything here. 

 We opted for fried Oreos. Insanely delicious.

 Noah is up there on the swings.

 Dennis and the kids ride the Doo Wop coaster.

No comment necessary.
 Kang A Bounce: The Sequel

 Dennis, Noah, and Liv splash down on the flume.

The kiddie section of Raging Waters. My mindful spot is at the very back.

Finding mindfulness at the Jersey Shore

Unfortunately, when people hear the words "Jersey Shore" these days, they more often than not think of that awful show of the same name. Although I've never seen even one minute of said show, I've been subjected to enough of the unavoidable supermarket rag headlines to know that it doesn't portray an especially positive, pretty, or peaceful view of what really is an incredibly beautiful place.

Summer doesn't feel complete if I don't get to the ocean at least once, not necessarily for the swimming but for the sound of the waves, the feel of the sand, the endless stretch of sky meeting water somewhere beyond my view. Even with its noisy boardwalk and deep-fried everything, smokers at every turn, and the occasional loud college kids waking up the beach complex at 1 a.m., the Jersey Shore can be a place for mindfulness, contemplation, solitude, and silence.

When I took Olivia for a walk down the crowded beach in search of pretty shells,  it took on the feel of a meditation as I focused my attention on the sand right in front of me. Step by step, wave by wave, everything else faded away and it was just me and my girl in a quiet and beautiful world. A similar thing happened when Chiara and I went tide-pooling, wading into the shallows left behind as the tide went out in search of hermit crabs and minnows looking for a way back to sea. There was something deeply spiritual about our mutual excitement over finding one small crab scurrying near our feet or one giant horseshoe crab moving slowly through the sand.

Even Raging Waters water park on the boardwalk became an opportunity for quiet contemplation as I sat facing the ocean with dozens of children splashing around behind me in the kiddie section. From my vantage point, all I could see was ocean and sand, a roller coaster in stillness in the distance, and an occasional parasailor quietly floating across the bright blue sky. The sight of parents and children carting coolers and sand buckets to the beach below filled my heart with joy as I thought about all the families around me just trying to create a few special memories here on the sands of the Atlantic coast.

We've got a few more days in sunny, sandy New Jersey, and I'm looking forward to discovering more stolen moments of mindfulness amid the shrieks and squeals of the real Jersey Shore.

Here are a few more photos from our trip so far:

 In the gardens at Hereford Lighthouse, just a short walk down the sea wall from our condo.

 A view of the Atlantic from the beginning of the boardwalk.

The entrance to the Wildwood boardwalk.