Sunday, 23 April 2017

A Wedding in Scotland

My glorious mini-hat
Having got together my own outfit for the Easter Monday wedding, I began to think about other people's clothes. Thus, Polish Pretend Daughter got an email explaining that--contrary to Polish mores--it is customary in the United Kingdom for women to wear hats (however small) to weddings.

PPD was grateful for this advice and, soon after her plane landed in Scotland, bought a cunning little confection of red net. After that, I seriously hoped most of the woman would indeed wear hats. One can rely on Englishwomen, but one never knows with Scots. Scotland's shops are filled with glorious frocks, but does anyone wear them?

Actually, the Easter Monday bride wears them. She has become a byword in the parish for her excellent and super-feminine dress sense. In fact, I was told that So-and-So believes that the bride clearly "comes from money"; "you can tell from her clothes", etc. Meanwhile, although she was born on the Continent and has married a Scot, she is very much an Anglophile, and therefore I was going to wear a hat even if I were the only woman to do so and the groom's Glasgow relations threw rocks at me.

Another exotic feature of Scottish life is the rivalry between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Benedict Ambrose also pondered his wedding guest clothes and worried aloud about his lack of a day jacket. He has a splendid kilt and the waistcoat and jacket necessary to Scottish evening dress, but his traditionalist's soul shrank from the idea of wearing a Prince Charlie jacket at 11 o'clock in the morning. He mused aloud about wearing his grey suit (which I hate) instead---and I forbade him to make any appearance before 5 PM. So it wasn't just his health: it was also the joy of seeing B.A. in his proper Scottish evening dress, the clothes that suit him best.

When Easter Monday dawned, the attic of the Historical House buzzed with wedding guests flying about ironing shirts, fixing hair and finding earrings. Poor Quadrophonic had a terrible hangover from drinking ruby port with his Polish Pretend Nephew the night before. PPN, meanwhile, was smugly chipper, having consumed milk thistle or some other witches' brew before indulging. However, Q looked very well in his borrowed grey suit and silver tie. I have to admit, though, that his outfit could not compare to that of Franco-Polish Pretend Son-in-Law.

B.A. called us a cab, and off we went in style. It was chilly, but the sun shone for the bride, thank heavens. Q regarded me with the jaundiced eye of a homicidal maniac, so I stopped voicing such observations.

When we got to church, I looked around eagerly for hats. The mother-of-the-bride had a lovely big hat, and the mother-of-the-groom had a sweet wee fascinator, and there was enough of a sprinkling of other hats and fascinators that PPD did not poke me and say "What about that £10 you made me spend?" Meanwhile, the groom, his brothers, his father and perhaps some of his friends wore kilts, and so looked splendid.

I did not see the bride until she appeared on her father's arm, of course, and she was a vision in soft net and white lace, with lace sleeves to the elbows. We all sat frozen in our pews, which made me panic a little, as were we not supposed to stand for the bride? However, my next thought was that if we all remained sitting, we could all see the bride, so I stayed down.

The wedding service and the following Mass were done all according to the Extraordinary Form, and the Continental guests kept the sighing, muttering and yawning to a minimum that surprised and edified me. (The homily, given by a visiting priest in Glaswegian, was about the disciples on the road to Emmaus and contained no reference to the martyrdom, red or white, likely to be visited upon the happy couple by the venomous, anti-Christian state.)

When Mass was over, the guests queued up in the carpark to get into the parish hall, eat the nibbles and, especially, drink the champagne. The sun shone strongly enough that one could linger outdoors without freezing to death, but I was happy when the chartered buses arrived to cart us off to the reception hall. I clambered aboard with my now-cheerful brother, who attempted  a snooze while the driver wended his way from Edinburgh's West End to Darkest Musselburgh, getting lost among the stone country walls in his hunt for the coaches' entrance.

The warm drawing-room upstairs.
We arrived at Carberry Tower to the sight and sound of a fully uniformed piper outside the front door, which cheered my tradition-loving heart. Indoors there was another queue for champagne, and then we all went into the formal gardens behind to have our photos taken. It was still cold, so when we decently could, Quadrophonic and I went indoors and found a warm drawing-room upstairs.

Dinner was served in a marquee beside the house, as there were too many guests to serve inside the house. There was a bit of a wait, which I ceased to notice when B.A. appeared, resplendent in Scottish evening dress. The meal was seriously British: smoked haddock tart, lemon sherbet as a palate cleanser, roast beef with scalloped potatoes and veg, and sticky toffee pudding with champagne sorbet. It was all quite good but ran overtime, so B.A. and I hoovered our puddings and went in search of the arrived "evening guests" or, rather one particular evening guest, i.e. Polish Pretend Son. We found him and took him to the warm and cozy drawing-room where--to our great joy--coffee and petits fours were to be served. We had first dibs, scarfing the miniature "millionaires' shortbread" in particular and draining cups of life-restoring coffee before the other guests arrived.

We dance a sedate Gay Gordon.
This was in preparation for the ceilidh, or Scottish dance party, which followed downstairs. The bride is a keen Scottish country dancer, and indeed there is nothing so festive in Scotland as a live ceilidh band. This one began with the tune to "Mhairi's Wedding".

For generations Scottish schoolchildren have been taught Scottish country dances in P.E. (Phys. Ed.) classes, so most Scots know how to do them. It's the only dancing my highly unathletic husband will do, and for once I had to actively restrain him from dancing. The sedate "Gay Gordon" was fine, but when he reappeared to attempt an energetic "Strip the Willow", I shooed him back into the hallway.

When the band left--too soon, alas!--we queued up in an adjoining room for corned-beef stovies and wedding cake. We sat about eating them, and then there was recorded rock music, to which PPD and F-PPSiL danced elegant tangos. Benedict Ambrose was by then rather tired, so he called a taxi and I gathered up all my little Historical Household chicks--except PPS who was coaxed from the Men's Schola and their bottles only with the greatest difficulty--and sat in it.

Then B.A. went to bed and the rest of us rejected any more Scottish ceremonial in favour of Polish wedding music, Polish cheese and Polish vodka. This, paradoxically, may also be characteristic of Scottish life, as the Poles are--after the English--Scotland's largest minority group. By 2 AM, Disco Polo  had given way to Pieśni Patrioticzne, and after crying tears of vodka to "Dziś do Ciebie Przyjść Nie Mogę",* the last survivors retired on a satisfactorily gloomy note.

As most of my readers are in the USA, I hope this gives an authentic yet exotic picture of Scottish life. Lest it seem overly civilised, I should note that certain guests took the half-empty bottles with them when shooed from the dining hall to the drawing-room and that a small amount outside beer may have been smuggled in. That there was no fighting or unrestrained snogging is a testimony to the sterling characters of the bride and groom, who either were a good influence on everyone else, or don't associate with pugnacious snoggers, or were clever enough to know that nothing restrains a Scottish crowd like a cash bar. The choice between getting tipsy and saving money throws us into a confusion and renders us docile--and relatively sober.

*"I Can't Go to You Today (Because I Have To Hide From the Germans in the Woods, Where They Will Probably Shoot Me.)"

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Okay, I Laughed But... I feel bad for laughing. Darn you, Rorate Caeli!

Stop me if I repeat too often the story about the visiting Irish bishop who ended his Toronto St. Patrick's Day sermon by emoting that Ireland would never, ever give up the Faith. I believe that was in 1996. I was terribly impressed.

Not Funny At All: Rorate also reveals that Trads don't eat meat on any Friday that doesn't fall a big solemnity, even Easter Friday. Oops. Still, one may feast, so next Easter Friday we will have lobster.... Um... do we like lobster?  There's no point feasting with salmon in Scotland because zzzzzzz. Unless, of course, one is very poor. (I am reading about food poverty in the UK.)

New Traditionalist Community of Women in New Zealand

I have had an appeal from a young trad woman I know, and I thought I'd pass it on.

Bigos It's Delicious

My mother is rather deaf, so when my parents picked up my brother from the airport, and he regaled them with tales of his Edinburgh Easter, all my mother gleaned was that I had been very busy.  How true that was. I caught up on sleep only yesterday when, to my great relief, I managed to have an afternoon nap.

It really was a splendid Easter. My brother Quadrophonic arrived, dog-tired, on Holy Wednesday night, and I put him in the best guest room. On Holy Thursday, I brought Quadrophonic along to Tesco to help carry bags of ingredients home, and in the evening we all went to Mass. Afterwards Benedict Ambrose reminisced about the Holy Thursday curries of his youth, and so Quadrophonic treated us to a splendid curry feast at the nearest snazzy sit-down. In deference to B.A.'s recent surgery, we took a taxi home.

After that, it was cook, cook, wash, wash, clean, clean, bake, bake, rush off to church and welcome another guest or two. Occasionally I would leave B.A. in my brother's or Polish Pretend Son's charge with the instruction that he wasn't allowed to do any work. It cut me to the quick to prevent B.A. from washing the dishes, but my top priority was conserving his energy for church and, ultimately, our friend's Easter Monday wedding banquet.

With all the baking and cooking to do (self-imposed, I know), my life was a round of going to bed very late and getting up rather early, and by Easter Wednesday I was beginning to lose things and leave them behind. On Easter Thursday night, I informed the same stranger two times that there had been an accident on the South Bridge. He looked at me warily, poor chap.

I went to Polish class on Thursday night, and I was rubbish. Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish. This is partly the fault of my Polish Pretend Children, who did not speak to me in Polish while they were here. The only guest who addressed me po polsku was Polish Pretend Daughter's French husband, and we exchanged greetings and information in learners' pidgin, to PPD's great amusement. "You both make mistakes, and yet you both understand each other," she observed. However, this was no great wonder to me, as I speak Polish more often with non-Polish students of Polish than with actual Poles.

Yes, my performance during the Easter Thursday Polish class was abysmal, but the day was not a washout, for I had made Polish hunter stew---bigos (pron. BEE-ghos)--for the first time ever, turning dry roast lamb into nectar and ambrosia. And it was a REVELATION. In general, the longer you cook meat, the tougher and stringier and more horrible it gets, but for some reason, the process of turning a leftover roast into bigos makes it melt into delicious meat manna.

My Polish teacher said she had never heard of making bigos with lamb, and when I cited Anne Applebaum's recipe, she sniffed about Polish-American cooking. I argued that baranina is what I had, so baranina is what I used. Frankly, I think any Polish babcia would agree that it is better to use roast lamb in bigos than to waste (marnować) it or, worse, serve it cold and tough or, worst, warmed up with gravy. I suspect that bigos is the best solution for any kind of leftover roast meat.

Having looked at several bigos recipes (and every Polish family has its own) in advance, here is how I did it:

Edinburgh Bigos

1 big jar of Polish kapusta kwaszona (preserved cabbage)--NOT vinegar-laced sauerkraut!*--mixed with carrots (The carrots aren't at all essential.)
1 handful of dried mushrooms (I had Italian, so I used Italian. Next time I will use Polish.)
1 cup pitted prunes
2 cups of hot water
4 strips of streaky bacon
1 onion, chopped
1/2 a medium green cabbage, chopped
4 medium tomatoes, skinned and chopped
1/2 lb smoked kielbasa, chopped into 1-inch pieces
leftover cooked white kielbasa, chopped into 1-inch pieces
leftover chorizo sausage (mine was already sliced for a pizza that didn't get made)
almost 1 lb leftover roast lamb cut into approx. 1-inch pieces (Next time I will use leftover roast pork.)
1 bay leaf
1 cup of red wine (okay, it was dry sherry, but that is what I had open)

Use an enormous hob-safe casserole with a lid.

1. Soak preserved cabbage in cold water for half an hour and drain.

2. Pour 2 cups of boiling water on dried mushrooms and prunes in a medium-sized bowl and let them sit for half an hour.

3. Skin the tomatoes after pouring hot water on them and letting them sit in the hot water for a bit. This makes the skins loosen enough for you to pull them off. Don't burn yourself, however.

4. Fry bacon in the casserole at low temperature to get the fat out, and then tip in the chopped onions and fresh chopped cabbage to fry merrily.

5. When the fresh cabbage has reduced to half its original bulk, put in the drained preserved cabbage, the mushrooms and prunes and their soaking liquid (being careful to leave any sand at the bottom of the soaking bowl), the tomatoes, all the kielbasa and other sausage, the leftover roast, the bay leaf and one cup of red wine.

6. Bring to a boil on medium heat and then turn heat down to lowest setting. Cook with the lid on for at least 2 hours. However, the longer you cook bigos, the better it gets. (Just check periodically to make sure the liquid hasn't all evaporated.) Many Polish cooks say it tastes better the next day and even better the day after that. Salt and pepper to taste. (I'm just salting and peppering each serving.)

There are 6-8 large helpings of bigos in this recipe. I had some for Thursday lunch and left the casserole bubbling away on "1" until I came back from Polish class and had more for supper. (B.A. had had his by then.) I left the pot on the chilly windowsill overnight. Yesterday, after I returned--dead tired--from teaching Ancient Greek class, I put the casserole back on the burner, brought it to a boil, turned the heat down to "1" and napped for an hour or so. Then I had a big bowl of bigos for lunch, and it was splendid. I turned the heat off, and B.A. turned it on again to get hot bigos for his Easter Friday supper. Before we went to bed, I put the remainder--enough for three helpings--in the fridge.

It's supposed to be served with dark bread and/or boiled white potatoes. This is probably a good idea, keeping you from compulsively eating too much bigos. If you know anything about Polish cooking, you are probably amazed that the only herb used is a bay leaf, but I assume this is because there is so much flavour in the mushrooms, prunes and kielbasach. As for how the dried out lamb became so squishy and delectable, I can only guess that fresh cabbage + preserved cabbage = magic.

*Anti-sauerkraut note: Vinegar makes Benedict Ambrose nauseous, so I was delighted to inform him of the many times it is condemned in bigos recipes. To preserve cabbage, Poles usually just stuff it in jars with salt and let nature carry on. However, commercial giants cheat, so if you are cooking for someone who hates vinegar as much as B.A. does, check the label on the jar. Vinegar in Polish is "ocet." Due to commercial use of ocet, I had to make our own horseradish sauce this Easter, so thanks to my brother Nulli for the awesome food processor. Grating raw horseradish by hand would have been a beast.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

The Catholic Three Date Rule

I love this hat. Too small for Ascot, but delightful all the same.
The entire Easter household of the Historical House was at a wedding on Monday, and when the groom told of his ill-fated first attempt to impress the bride years ago, I thought about my three date rule. 

My three date rule, which I seem to recall telling the bride in a snazzy dress shop no more than two years ago, is "Every good Catholic guy deserves three dates." 

Good Catholic Guys are not usually at their best on first dates. They are nervous and awkward and blurt out the most bizarre inanities, and really the whole point to first dates is getting them over with. Never judge a Good Catholic Guy on his first date savoir-faire. He's unlikely to have any.  Unless he does or reveals something really morally appalling--which disqualifies him as "good"-- tell him you had a lovely time and accept a second date, if he asks. 

Having got a second date, the Good Catholic Guy will be a bit more confident and relaxed and less prone to setting the tablecloth on fire. You are now much more likely to see what his friends and family like about him. Also--crucially--you yourself will be a bit more used to being alone in a crowd with the chap and less likely to feel that if you let down your guard for a second, an armed gang  will bundle you both into a van and race you towards the altar, trapping you in a loveless marriage with a drooling secret sex fiend. Once again, unless he does or reveals something really morally appalling--disqualifying him from the title of "Good Catholic Guy"--tell him you had a lovely time and accept a third date, if he asks. 

By the third date, you will have had time to grow affection for this awkward, imperfect, deodorant-wearing, Mass-attending individual--or not. If not, nobody can say you didn't give a Good Catholic Guy a chance. However, if time has worked an affection-growing magic, you will be very grateful that you took my Catholic Three Date Rule advice, and so will he. 

Getting married properly in this crazy modern world is so difficult that just asking a nice girl on a proper date is an act of tremendous courage, as is crushing irrational fears long enough to accept the date with him. Awkward Catholic men say "Would you like to go for a coffee?" and wound-up Catholic women hear "Let's get married." This is why, along with such great advice as "Every Good Catholic Guy Deserves Three Dates", I like to repeat "It's Just a Coffee." 

Occasionally women tell me they are married now and have children because they took my advice. This makes me very happy, especially as I have no real children of my own. At Monday's wedding , Polish Pretend Son argued that he was much better than any real child could ever possibly be, but despite his manifold perfections I was not entirely convinced. At the time Polish Pretend Daughter (no relation) was dancing with her husband, whom she married without any advice from me. She is very beautiful, which I think frightened a lot of men, so I suspect one of the principal reasons Franco-Polish Pretend Son-in-Law was successful in his suit was that he had the guts to ask her out on a proper date. 

The best part of this wedding, by the way, was when Benedict Ambrose turned up for the dinner in correct Highland evening dress. He felt so well on Easter Sunday, that he proposed going to the Easter Monday wedding ceremony in the morning, the champagne reception afterwards, etc., but I put my foot down and forbid him to budge from home until a cab whisked him to the reception venue for 5 PM. He looked a bit wan, and a bit grey, and he has what may be a permanent lump on his head, but the thing about love is that he is MY wan, grey chap with a possibly permanent lump on his head. When I first saw him in person over eight years ago, I thought "Right! No attraction! We're just going to be friends." Ha! Now I'm a willing slave to the bearded weirdie. 

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Celebrating Easter with Food

Well, here I am again, 16 lbs lighter than I was in mid-February. At least, I had lost 16 pounds by Holy Saturday. (One day the scales claimed I had lost a whopping 20 lbs, but it [they?] changed its [their?] mind the very next day.) The feasting began on Easter Sunday and it hasn't quite  stopped yet. I am avoiding Mr Scales until tomorrow morning when I go back to low-carb, no added sugar life.

As far as I am concerned, the Low Blood Sugar Diet--strictly followed according to the recipe book--works very well. What I liked best was that no gym membership or boring exercise regimen was necessary. The only overall change to my physical activity was carrying out Spring Cleaning---and, come to think of it, a lot of rubbish and recycling, since my husband is not yet physically fit enough to take them out himself.

The funny thing about living on 800 calories a day is that I thought about food quite often, watched even more cooking shows than usual and read several books about cuisine. I feel a bit ashamed of that; I am relatively sure that when monks and nuns fast, they don't spend that much time dreaming about food.

Be that as it may, I very much enjoyed planning, preparing and--at last--eating special Easter dishes. We had up to four overnight guests in the house, so all this food was as necessary as it was enjoyable. Two of the guests were Polish, which gave me an excuse to make exotic stuff, not just solidly British fare.

The Home Cooking and Baking Menu

Good Friday: Hot Cross Buns

(It is traditional in the UK to bake hot cross buns on Good Friday.)

Easter Sunday Breakfast: Żurek (Polish sour soup with white kielbasa); coloured hard-boiled eggs; grilled white kielbasa with ćwikła (beetroot-horseradish sauce); potato pancakes; śledź w oleju (herring in oil, which I forgot to serve); chałka (braided egg bread); mazurek królewski (shortbread pastry with jams); baranek (cake shaped like a lamb--the centrepiece, not to be eaten yet); makowiec (poppy seed cake); coffee.

Easter Sunday Dinner (4:30 PM): prawn salad on baby gem lettuce; roast leg of lamb with butterbean-mint sauce, roast potatoes, gravy and peas; Easter Trifle; leftover makowiec, leftover mazurek; white wine; red wine; cava; pudding wine; Laura Secord chocolate Easter Egg; coffee.

Easter Monday Breakfast or Brunch : Random selection of bread, cheese, black pudding, bacon, fried banana, as half the household gets ready for a wedding, and the other half takes its time while waiting to go to just the wedding dinner/dance.

Easter Tuesday Brunch: Leftover żurek; black pudding; fried eggs; morning rolls with jam and/or butter; the baranek (eaten at last); coffee; tea.

Both my Polish Pretend Children and my Franco-Polish Pretend Son-in-Law were here, so Easter meals have been all very entertaining, with Polish Pretend Daughter insulting Polish Pretend Son at intervals by telling him that he is actually German.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Laetare, Ierusalem!

Hooray! It is Laetare Sunday--a Rose Sunday--and that means Lent is drawing to a close. At least, we are two-thirds of the way through, and tradition calls for a celebration. In days of yore Benedict Ambrose and I went to (or hosted) a dinner party featuring pink foods (like barszcz, ham and strawberry fool) and pink alcohol of varying quality. Since then we have become more abstemious and more prone to going to bed unsociably early, so today we had just had a late lunch at Edinburgh's Bar Napoli.

Another reason for celebration and thanksgiving: yesterday was Edinburgh's first warm day in weeks and weeks or months and months. B.A. and I carried folding chairs to the top of the Historical House's rather grand porch and basked in the sun. (I basked under my giant green straw hat.) The sky was as blue and cloudless as Our Lady's mantel, which was apt as yesterday was Lady Day.

But back to Bar Napoli, where B.A. and I shared a plate of calamari before B.A. tucked into a bowl of spaghetti carbonara and I chowed down on scallopini con limone. I also ordered a Big Glass of House Red, which was wild and crazy for me these days whereas B.A. made do with the bottle of sparkling mineral water. We were prepared to go without vegetables, but to our surprise, the waiter brought a side dish of green beans and cooked potato halves.

I was happy to see the green beans, but dubious about the potatoes as I have not eaten a potato since long before Ash Wednesday. However, I forked up an experimental piece of potato, and it was heavenly. Simply heavenly. We think it was roasted in garlic butter. Although we looked at the dessert menu, I decided that I would rather have another piece of buttery, garlicky potato instead.

Since it is Laetare Sunday and we may be frivolous, I shall reveal that I have lost 13 pounds since I weighed myself at my parents' house in Toronto circa February 15. I know this because I finally went out and bought a new bathroom scale, not only to how much weight I was losing, but to make sure B.A. wasn't losing too much. I am also--as you see--still alive after five weeks of eating approximately 800 calories a day--although I put this down to the fact that the most exercise I do is walk to the supermarket and back (2.4 miles, 1.2 miles with a knapsack full of groceries). Do not attempt this if you live in an agrarian society, work in a factory or find yourself in the gulag.

Five weeks of living on such a ridiculously low number of calories has its lessons. I should write them all up and sell them to a magazine. But here are some freebee observations:

1. When you have not eaten a potato or anything made of potatoes for five weeks (or more), a potato roasted in garlic butter is like CANDY. It is CANDY.

2. Real candy seems rather pointless and disgusting. The thought of a box of chocolates--even high-end ones like, say, Godiva--leaves me cold. THE most amazing sweetmeats in existence--as you can be sure I have told B.A.--are soft DATES stuffed with WALNUT HALVES. There was a day a week or two ago in which I went over ye olde 800 calorie limit because I kept filling the dates I bought for B.A. with walnut halves and then guiltily eating them.

When Easter comes, I hope B.A. painstakingly replaces the stones of dates with walnut halves, sticks the dates in ruffles, puts them in a fancy box and presents them to me as a gift. I recommend this also for our wedding anniversary, Christmas, my birthday and Valentine's Day. (He can reuse the fancy box.)

3. When on the Blood Sugar Diet, keep dates out of the house.

4. After a while, you do get used to the following:

a) eating breakfast very late
b) having only coffee for breakfast
c) never snacking
d) never eating bread, potatoes or rice or any prepared food
e) going for hours and hours without food

You never get used to eating only 800 calories a day, however.

5. The higher in cocoa dark chocolate is, the higher in calories it is. Cocoa fat is higher in calories than sugar. However, sugar is STILL worse for you than cocoa fat. Ponder the mystery and eat only one square at a sitting, preferably as part of your incomplete supper.

6.  There is absolutely nothing like eating when you are actually hungry, not to mention hungry and tired. When you eat lunch and feel like it has actually made a new woman out of you--that's a great feeling. Those Eastern Christians sure know what they're doing when they fast like it's 999.

Update: I have been reading up on dates. Apparently they are 60% fructrose or something ridiculous like that, so perhaps it would be a bad idea to eat more than one or two of my Date-Walnut Sweetmeats a day. Interestingly, they would be about 34 calories each; a square of 85% dark chocolate is about 52.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

My Only Story for Now

The tale of B.A.'s brush with death (with B.A's real name) can now be read in Catholic World Report. The limitations of the original 800 word cut-off have been remarked upon in the combox. It's a fair cop.

I am not having the most life-opening Lent, I must say. My world has shrunk to the Historical House, B.A's activities and my shopping paths. However, it is a mercy I am on the Blood Sugar Diet because the way I usually deal with stress is to stuff my little face with comforting food. I can't make up my mind if dieting is a more or less self-absorbed activity than indulging in eating whatever one wants whenever one wants to eat it. It's a good lesson in short-term pain for (hopefully) long-term gain. But it sad that my most enthusiastic Lenten reading is about food.

Here are my current thoughts:

1. How is Benedict Ambrose today?
2. What household task needs to be done first?
3. Can I get away without doing any household task?
4. Why did I leave the household tasks until now? AAAAARGH!
5. I do like the new bed. Stylish and comfortable.
6. Will this dress do for E's wedding?
7. Is it too soon to have another coffee?
8. Does one use the Polish instrumental case in this context? (Answer to B.A's "What are you thinking about?")
9. Have I written for money recently? I really need to write something not about myself or B.A. soon.
10. Do I need to buy a jacket for E's wedding?
11. Will I be the only woman besides the bride in a floor-length gown? Oh dear...
12. Maybe I gave Sir Arthur Evans too much credit in my last Ancient Greek class and ought to say something about Henrich Schliemann, too.
13. Why can't I find the score for the Greek Orthodox "Phos Hilaron" anywhere?
14. Are we going to get to the bottom rung of the Edinburgh property market before it's too late and we can never, ever save enough for a deposit?
15. What kind of hat can one wear with a strapless floor-length gown?
16. Why must the British always wear hats to weddings?
17. How shocked will Benedict Ambrose be if I don't wear a hat to this wedding?
18. Oh good. I weigh 3/4 of a pound less today than yesterday.
19. Goodness me, the Westminster Terrorist's daughter wears a face veil.
20. Why am I more stressed out by B.A.'s medical appointments than he is?

Monday, 20 March 2017

Edinburgh's Precocious Children

Short lapse from Lenten discipline for this sad tale of Edinburgh life.

*Warning: Statutory rape discussion ahead.*

I first saw this story in a Scottish newspaper two days ago and was inspired by the shocking headline to read further. What I read made me feel extremely sorry for the Polish boy who--as I remarked to B.A.--was nevertheless in a state of mortal sin. Hopefully his parents have dragged him over the coals and sent him to confession.

It is interesting hat the judge did not mention "cultural issues", as is occasionally done. The sexual dissolution has made inroads in Poland, but I would be surprised to hear that parents there allow their twelve year old daughters to traipse about at night, talk to boys at taxi stands, and feel free enough to go with strangers to parties. Thus, I can well understand why, when these Edinburgh 12 and 13 year olds told a 19 year old Polish stranger that they were 16 and 17, he believed them.

The observations I can bring to the discussion is that I see any number of (I think--it's hard to tell) pre-teen girls on the Rough Bus wearing skin-tight leggings over their round bottoms and occasionally I shudder at a child's thick make-up. The make-up bothers me much more than their cheerful call-outs to strangers since this is Scotland and chatting happily with strangers is a time-honoured Scottish custom. However, it is a total contrast to life in Poland, where people do not smile at strangers, let alone strike up friendly conversations with them on the bus. In my experience, if an adult woman like me looks at a male stranger, he will know at once and stare back, thinking goodness knows what.

Hopefully this very sad story is at very least a warning to young men who come to Scotland that sometimes girls who act and look like and claim to be older girls are actually only 10 or 12. A commentator asked if boys should be expected to ask for ID, and my answer is "Yes."  Other commentators have echoed my grim thoughts about the girl's parents, but not only parents are to blame for the behaviour of twelve year olds. Pop culture has been selling sex to children for decades now, and local children eat up pop culture like ice-cream. When B.A. shushed a pair of noisy girls who were harassing two quiet girls on the Rough Bus, they began to sing some pop song they had down word-perfect.

I am not sure what this says about me, but the part of the story that had me tight-lipped with anger was the twelve-year-old's worrying to others that she might be pregnant. It was not enough that she had had a one night stand with a "fit" guy she met in a taxi queue---no, she had to have some DRA-MA. This, I tell myself, is unfair. She is, after all, only twelve. And presumably pregnancy worries are a natural and unpleasant part of pre-teen sex lives.

On the other hand, considering that her lust (but for what?) and lies led to a young man's name and photo being splashed across Britain's national newspapers, I do wonder how much slack we should cut a girl just because she's twelve. He's named; she's not. She lied. He didn't. She may have known what they were doing was against the law in Scotland. He didn't knowingly consent to having sex with a girl her age. (When he found out she was only 12, he burst into tears.) Nevertheless, headlines call him a rapist. She isn't called anything. So far any public anger I've seen is directed towards her (unnamed) parents.*

*Update: Well, Poles have something to say, (Roughly) e.g. " To zepsuta moralnie dziewczyna jest winna." (Roughly, "It [her behaviour] is morally wrong; the girl is guilty.") They are also fighting among each other about Queen Jadwiga and telling lurid stories about the behaviour of modern day teenage Polish girls. "World has gone to dogs," says one grumpy chap.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Saint Patrick's Day Gratitude

Not that we confuse football with religion
Benedict Ambrose was discharged from the hospital last Friday, and here it is Friday again. That's a week we might not have had together, but we did, thanks to Providence and a handful of Edinburgh doctors who were on the ball.

Life is returning to normal. Yesterday morning I waved good-bye to my brother from the platform of the local railway station, and yesterday evening I went to Polish class. In the break I was invited to tell everyone where I had been for the past several weeks, and my narrative went (in Polish): I was in Canada, and then I had jet lag, and then I was angry because I hadn't done any homework, and then I was sick, and then my husband was VERY sick in the hospital. "Benign tumour" in Polish is  nowotwór łagodny. You're welcome. (Interestingly, "monster" is  potwór.)

The general opinion of my Polish class was that we were unusually lucky that the gears of the Edinburgh medical establishment moved so quickly for us, and when I suggested it might be because B.A. is relatively young, there was general agreement.

The past week has been full of gifts for which to be grateful. First, Benedict Ambrose was at home and cheerful, if tired. Second, Nulli arrived on Thursday--how glad I was to see him!--and was a comforting, dinner-making, dish-washing presence. Some afternoons we did a little sightseeing, which got me out of the house and left B.A. to a cozy, quiet afternoon of reading, and in the evenings we watched episodes of Season One from "Scarecrow and Mrs King" on Nulli's snazzy Mac laptop.

"It's very cute how you two giggle together," said B.A., who had heard us from his scholarly bed, and his curiosity was piqued enough to join us for subsequent viewings of "SMK".  Nulli and I watched it when it aired in the mid-eighties, and I marvel now that all the "adult humour" went over our young heads. Neither did I notice that every episode involves Scarecrow getting beaten up and Mrs King being kidnapped. I had quite the crush on Bruce Boxleitner although my preteen brain understood he belonged mystically to Kate Jackson. Now I would happily steal Scarecrow from her if it were 1983, and I wasn't married to B.A., and I was over 18, and it weren't all fiction.

All four seasons of SMK cost £37 on, and I am thinking about it. I am only thinking, not buying, because (third great gift of the week) we all went to the local mall on Wednesday and bought a King-sized mattress and then a King-sized bed. The mattress was the gift of B.A.'s mother, who seized on my remark that we had thought B.A.'s sore neck was down to needing a new mattress and stuffed mattress-money into our bank account. The bed came from the change and our savings, so I am not in a terribly spendthrift mood. There are also King-sized linens and duvet to buy, and I am frog-marching B.A. to Pilates class after Easter, so he finally gets some muscle-building exercise. However, I must say that I very much enjoyed watching "Scarecrow and Mrs King" en famille as if it were the Eighties again.

This post is not particularly Lenten, but it is Saint Patrick's Day, which I still keep, if in a very minor way now. (SPD is not such a big deal in Edinburgh.)  My friends over at Laodicea have posted a rousing version of Saint Patrick's Breastplate, which is one of the most powerful prayers I have ever encountered. When I dress, I shall don my rhinestone-studded green Edinburgh Hibernians T-shirt. My father's food traditions are German, not Irish, however, so I think we'll just be eating our usual (and, in Edinburgh, ubiquitous) salmon for supper.

Having embraced life in Scotland, I ask myself annually if I should bother wearing green for Saint Patrick, but then I think about my father's fathers (and his mother's mothers) and acknowledge that his Catholicism, and my Toronto Catholicism, is of a what used to be a very Irish order. So I'm wearing green for my fathers and the faith of my fathers. My convert mother's people were actual Orangemen. Hee hee hee!

Blood Sugar Diet Update: Still plodding away on about 800 - 900 calories a day.  No bread, no potatoes, no rice, very little sugar. I eat tons of veg, particularly dark leafy greens--but I keep catching colds. Four weeks to go!

Polish Arts Update: Thoughtful Polish response to the beauty of the pear-shaped :

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The Carer Crashes and Burns with Resentment

Resentful Canadian 
Hey, guess what? Writing your biweekly paid column on your husband's brush with death is incredibly emotionally exhausting! Who knew?

I figured it out when I got my brother and myself completely lost on our way to chic and scenic Stockbridge yesterday. As there wasn't much for Nulli to do yesterday afternoon, I thought I'd show him some of the sights. First, though, I had to get completely confused, lost, called out of the path of a homicidal double-decker bus, etc. Don't even ask about my total meltdown when my plans to bring B.A. back some Chinese takeaway were brought up short by the realization I had no idea where there was a decent Chinese takeaway on that side of the University.

"I think I'm crashing," I said shortly before the bus incident and didn't really feel quite myself until I had demolished a bun-less hamburger and cider vinegar-laden sweet potato fries in Holyrood 9A aka "the best hamburger joint in Edinburgh", as I promised Nulli. (Unsurprisingly, I have not been adhering as stringently to the LBS Diet Cookbook this week.) Feeling myself only lasted until the finding-a-Chinese-takeaway incident. There are some really, really, really terrible Chinese/Thai takeaways in this town, including the nadir, the one by the Historical House. Fortunately, Nulli has a sophisticated Sat-Nav on his phone. We found a little hole in the wall Chinese joint where two fat, lonely-looking Chinese students sat slurping noodles. Aces.

On Sunday afternoon I went with Nulli to my favourite hipster café to buy some coffee and, failing to find the kind I like, ordered cappuccinos instead. The place was packed---mostly with students on their laptops. It was quite a contrast to weekday mid-afternoons. But I found a space on a bench and directed Nulli to a stool by the counter across from me, and as we chatted the English girl beside me shifted impatiently, directed me annoyed looks, sighed, offered nastily to switch places with Nulli and then disappeared, looking huffy and resentful.

I was seriously offended because I knew exactly what her problem was: Canadian, like American, accents cut through the quiet Scottish air like knives, and since the average Brit can't tell the difference, lime-sucking resentment for Uncle Sam comes to the fore.

Normally I don't talk in the café, or on the bus, or to anyone in public spaces, much, except to a Scot or a Pole, so I had forgotten how loud (and American) Canadians sound in Edinburgh and how decades of anti-racism training has not stopped non-Americans from being bloody rude to Yanks. On the Rough Bus it was the same deal with the wee bearded guy in front of us: shift, shift, sigh, sigh, glare, glare. We switched to French.

Switching to French is easier for Nulli than for me. I seem to be incapable of saying "Oui" for yes. It keeps coming out Polish. And I don't ever remember seeing and hearing "Shift, Shift, Sigh, Sigh, Glare, Glare" directed at Poles. Outright hostility from the "Socially Excluded", yes.  Prissy, passive-aggressive humph-ing, no.

I have been here just long enough not to say loudly, "Does my AX-cent bother you?"  Naturally the last thing I want to do is start a rumpus on the Rough Bus.  (And the obvious retort is that it's not the accent, it's the ***** volume.) But I am coming thisss closssse to starting a rumpus anywhere else, tabernoosh, ostine.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Bach and Elizabeth David

Ours is also a first edition but the dust-jacket is gone.
Benedict Ambrose is across from me in a sitting-room chair, reading the London Review of Books. Nulli is on the sofa, programming. Earlier today I prevailed upon the latter to play a lot of Bach on the piano for the entertainment  of the former. (still in bed). Bach is one of B.A.'s favourite composers (if not THE favourite), and he loves live music above most things. Thus, although my judgement is not all that splendid at the moment--I think I am in post-shock shock or something--I am congratulating myself on my cleverness in asking Nulli to come.

Originally I was thinking moral support for me, and then I was thinking a man to help with carting B.A. about, but now I am thinking about live Bach for B.A.

As B.A. seems perfectly alright--save for that small white square on his head---I shall return to Lenten discipline regarding the internet. However, I did want to recommend any of the works of Elizabeth David (but especially French Provincial Cooking) for anyone who expects to spend any time in a hospital or clinic waiting room.

Elizabeth David is wonderfully entertaining and authoritative and--in French Provincial Cooking for example--writing about a France that has largely disappeared but is the France foreigners dream about: a France of farmers, roadside café/petrol stations worthy of Michelin stars, bourgeois Catholic households in Paris obsessed with food (but eating plain boiled fish on Fridays) and catered to by their cook, a hardworking girl up from the country.

If you like food--and I do--reading about amazing French dishes will distract you from the unpleasantnesses of an urban hospital waiting room and also forgive your wandering attention. When you lose your place in "Eggs", you can read a few observations and recipes in "Sweets".

Over 36 hours, I read, I think, all of French Provincial Cooking, first in the Eye Pavilion (between bouts of letter-writing), then in the Royal Infirmary A&E (and very cold it was in there), and then in various rooms in the Western General Hospital. The chapel had a large Bible, thank heaven: if my memory does not betray me, it was the Revised Standard English Version (Anglican).

B.A. was gratified I spent the duration of his operation and regaining consciousness praying in this chapel. He was even quite excited for a moment.

"Do they have the Blessed Sacrament reserved?" he yipped.

"Are you kidding?" I demanded. "This is Edinburgh. We LOST the Reformation, remember?"

Thereupon B.A. lost all interest in this chapel although I must say it will always be special to me. I hope and pray there will always be hospital chapels open for Christians to pray in (with a Bible within easy reach), so this is something to think about in the ongoing war on several fronts against the Christian faith. The chapel had signs posted in both the Christian and Muslim corners of the chapel stating very firmly that the chapel was for use of people of ALL faiths, and I must say I was glad of them.

Friday, 10 March 2017

How Family Should Work

The older of my two brothers is asleep in the bed in our dining-room enclave, the space B.A. and I call the "Polish Corridor" as the guests who sleep there tend to be Polish students. It's amazing what a difference it makes to have another person with me in the Historical House. On the rare occasions B.A. is away out very late at a Men Only Supper, I sense Something at the Bottom Of the Central Staircase. On Wednesday night, I thought I could sense this terrible, surely fictional, monster. Last night I did not.

(Incidentally, when you live in a Historical House, never ask if there are any ghost stories associated with it. There are ghost stories associated with the H.H. that are kept from tourists out of respect for the departed family. The worst one involves a ... Never mind.)

When my brother arrived at Edinburgh's Waverley railway station, we checked his bags into the baggage office and went for a "Full Scottish" breakfast at the nearby Cockburn Café. It was a lovely, sunny morning: just the thing for jetlag. When we got to the café, Nulli called home and discovered that his mother-in-law had cancelled her trip to Paris and her birth country so as to help his wife (her daughter) with their children while he was in Scotland with B.A. and me.

I am really touched by that. Meanwhile, my mother told her 90-something pal at the hospital where they volunteer the whole story, and Ina said something like, "My, you have a close-knit family." When my mother related this to me, I said, "Yes, we do, thank God" although actually this "close-knit" family lives in at least seven separate domiciles, none of which houses three generations, and most shelter only one. There is no iron-clad pilgrimage to senior members' home (or homes) for Sunday Dinner, although my single brother and sisters do often drop by our parents' house on Sunday evenings. The siblings can go for weeks or even months without phoning, emailing or texting each other.

Nevertheless, the bonds are strong, as this week's emergency has proved. After I got off the phone with my father (4:15 AM for me; 11:15 PM for him), my mother phoned Nulli and Ma Belle Soeur, and as Ma Belle Soeur is a doctor, she knew better than any of us what could happen and said to Nulli, "You may have to go."

As I have taken away B.A.'s computer and he can't read this, I will say that Ma Belle Soeur was thinking about the funeral arrangements. The "tiny chance" B.A. and I were told about every time he signed consent forms was apparently really 10%. After Ma Belle Soeur told my brother this Worse News, she rolled over and, exhausted from an endless day of doctoring, went to sleep while our poor Nulli stared sleeplessly at the ceiling.

But "what a difference a day makes" as the song goes. From 4 PM Wednesday, everything has been much, much happier. All the same, I would be going quietly out of my mind when at home alone, so I am SO grateful my brother is here---and SO grateful he doesn't have to worry about his kids driving his wife around the bend, thanks to his mother-in-law's wonderful decision to cancel her Paris trip.

The doctors are discussing what to do with B.A.'s brain when they have their weekly meeting today, so I ask your prayers again. I asked Polish Pretend Son to pray that it wasn't cancer, and so far it isn't cancer, so PPS's prayers seem to be efficacious. The lead surgeon, by the way, wasn't a Pole but a Czech.

Funny, by the way, how a  married couple of 40-somethings decides whom to tell when one of them is in danger of death. In our case it was:

1. Kindly neighbour-friend with car. (Transportation/grown-up of parents' generation.)*
2. FSSP priest. (Last Rites and priestly prayers.)
3. Four devoutly Roman Catholic friends by telephone text message. (Prayer warring by those who would be properly concerned and pray fervently but not feel personally devastated.)
4. My parents. (3:45 AM loneliness overcoming daughterly wish to spare parents perhaps needless worry.)
5. B.A.'s mother. (Natural Justice.)

*Invaluable, by the way. She made me take a shower when she drove me home on Wednesday evening so I could rush about backing a very late bag of overnight things for B.A.

"Have a shower," she said.

"I don't have time!" I yipped.

"Make time," she said.

My mother found this story true evidence of the neighbour's excellence.  The neighbour is sort of genteel Marxist, Guardian-reading agnostic, which I only mention to point out the deep goodness of many lefties. Sometimes the right-of-center forget.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

An Awful Scare

Benedict Ambrose is in hospital, and I am on his side of the bed in our room at home. Between Tuesday at 9 PM to Wednesday at 5 PM was utterly terrifying. Truly, dear readers, I haven't been so frightened since my mother was in hospital 20 years ago.  Fortunately, B.A. is doing splendidly, although from the sound of it this morning, he finally caught my cold.

As I sat by his hospital bed coughing away and asking nurses for cups of tea, I was terrified lest they throw me out of the ward. Happily for us, they never did, but PRAYERS please that I didn't make any of the other patients sicker and that B.A. swiftly recovers.

No doubt I am opening myself up to accusations of selfishness, but until 4 PM we thought there was a strong chance B.A. would die. How did the specialist put it? "If untreated, your brain would collapse in on itself and you would go into an irreversible coma." This may be why the nurses didn't kick up a fuss about my hacking cough, my inability to obey the Hospital Visiting Hours sign, my tucking my feet into B.A.'s hospital bed, and my occupation of the Relative's Overnight Room on Tuesday night. Good Lord, but was that a cold room.

Incidentally, when your husband complains that he keeps waking up with a sore neck, don't say, "We need a new mattress. We really should get a new mattress." Say, "I'm ringing up the doctor's office to make you an appointment." Apparently it was A.A. Gill telling his readers (while dying) that they shouldn't ignore such symptoms that prompted B.A. to finally make that appointment.

It's incredible how your world can overturn. As we went to the Eye Pavilion (B.A. had also had a nagging pain behind his eye) on Tuesday morning, we argued over whether or not my favourite hipster café was on the way and how much time it would take me to get a coffee there. I left him to walk to the Eye Pavilion his way, and victoriously got my super-duper coffee before rejoining him outside the clinic. On Tuesday evening, we argued with a doctor over whether we could stop at our priest's house on the way to a specialist so B.A. could have Last Rites.

Can you imagine that? I couldn't. Never, ever.

To be precise, it was B.A. who was not allowed to go home but had to go across town at once in case the surgeon wished to operate right away. The doctor suggested I go home, and I said "I'm not leaving my husband" for the first of what felt like many times, but was actually maybe only two or three. The duty nurse (or Sister, as she seems to be called here) suggested I go home when B.A. was admitted, and I said, "I have no family in Scotland. I'm not leaving my husband."

The kind friend (to whom we are eternally grateful) who had driven us from one hospital to our priest to the specialists' hospital was moved and intrigued by my comment, as she has no family anywhere, which doesn't seem to bother her. This maybe may be playing into the Mangia Cake stereotype of Anglo-Saxon people who don't "care about family." But to me, not having family around at such a time was a terrible poverty that should move any hospital nurse to pity. Nevertheless, it wasn't until 4 AM that I broke down and called Canada on my mobile. I hadn't wanted to frighten my parents and it was with great reluctance--and many hours later--that B.A. allowed me to call his mother.

The poor woman didn't answer, and she didn't call me back until B.A. had gone into the operating theatre. Imagine telling your mother-in-law--on a mobile phone--in a hospital loo--that her only child is having an operation and having to answer the question "Is he okay?" with "We'll know in three hours." There is a fine line between cheerful British understatement and lying--and there's a fault-line along it where your voice cracks, which betrays to the other British woman knows exactly what's going on. My voice cracked, and while she made the cheerful British understatement response, her voice cracked too.

Foreigners often think the British are cold and unfeeling. Ha ha ha ha ha ha. They may think they understand English, but they can't speak British Woman.

Anyway, this is all to relieve my shattered nerves in my usual way, and secondarily to remind you that death can come like a thief in the light night, and if you don't make your menfolk go to the doctor, they may be taken from you much sooner than you ever dreamed. Also, don't be put off  if the hospital chapel  is occupied by Muslim staff saying their that-time-of-day prayers.  If you find yourself waiting in a hospital, get in there, find the Christian corner and throw yourself before the Lord. One of the things about being all alone when your husband is taken away from you to an operating room is that it's just you until you realize it isn't just you. There's Jesus, waiting to be with you while you wait.

Meanwhile, my brother's plane has arrived, so I am off to meet the train from Glasgow. Thank God he comes to happy news.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Lenten Sunday Gifts

A long-time reader from overseas appeared at Mass yesterday. She approached me after Mass to say that she had read my blog and taken my Singles advice, and thereby had this Scottish husband, two children and another on the way.

I goggled at the nice-looking, graying husband, the shy wee man at his knees, the girl baby (with a splendidly chic bonnet)  in his arms and the bump over my reader's tum. I had some part in all this wealth of life and love? Really? Truly?

"Do you have any of your own?" asked the cheerful Scottish husband, thereby disclosing that he doesn't read my blogs.

"," quoth I. "It was too late for me, or so goes the theory."

"It was late for me," said the husband cheerfully, who did indeed appear to be some years older than his wife and, come to think of it, me.

Yes, men say stuff like that to the barren, which is why their wives have to beat them occasionally with tea towels. However, I was too interested in the miracle of the wee man, the wee girl in the chic bonnet (was it tweed?) and the bump to mind. Occasionally readers write to tell me that my advice helped them get married and have babies. Rare is the evidence right before my eyes.

It was a splendid gift. My spirits soared on the way home. Until B.A. and I were on the Rough Bus, of course. Then two girls of roughly twelve boarded and sat in the very back to amuse themselves by singing pop songs and yelling at fellow passengers like middle-aged drunks. Their speech was rather broad, so I didn't understand what they were yelling. Apparently, though, they were trying to get the attention of two other girls, better-mannered twins, who stared straight ahead, embarrassed. Obviously these polite girls don't read my blog either, for then they would know that the way to deal with aggressive friendliness on the Rough Bus is to be tolerably friendly back.

But the polite girls were in luck, for B.A. chivalrously turned around in his seat and told the rude girls to cut it out. This was truly heroic, for naturally it turned their aggressive attention onto him and left his wife wondering why o why can neither of us drive?

"What's going on?" I asked in an undertone.

"I'll tell you later," said B.A.

My thoughts flew to the anti-Polonism of the Rough Bus, and so I asked in my best teacher tones,

"Are they being RACIALLY A-BU-SIVE?"

(Yes, in the UK white people of different nations are considered different races. If you wallop a Pole in silence, you are merely charged with assault, but if you wallop a Pole while saying "Take that, Polish guy!" racial abuse is added to the charge sheet. No doubt if/when the UK Powers That Be rip 800,000 Poles from their British lives and deport them, they will be really super-polite about it.)

"No, no," said B.A. "They are bothering two other girls. Tell you later."

When we got up to leave the bus, the loud girls were still in the back, taking a rest between pop songs ("Eh, mister, dae ye think we wad win X-Factor?"). So naturally they directed good-byes at our tweed-clad backs, to which we responded with good-byes tinged with reproof.  It took me a while to interpret what it was they were actually saying, but I finally figured it out. I forget how they addressed B.A., but to me they said, "Good-bye, Posh Mammy!"

So that was another Lenten Sunday gift.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

First Sunday in Lent

"Lent is like a long 'retreat' during which we can turn back into ourselves and listen to the voice of God, in order to defeat the temptations of the Evil One. It is a period of spiritual 'combat' which we must experience alongside Jesus, not with pride and presumption, but using the arms of faith: prayer, listening to the word of God and penance. In this way we will be able to celebrate Easter in truth, ready to renew the promises of our Baptism". - Pope Benedict XVI (2010)

Also: current cough remedy:

Lemon juice
Coconut oil

Mix in cup. Microwave. Follow with ginger tea.

Fasting diet continues apace. Dropped dress size. in two weeks. Am dead sure, however, that this is a diet for the tough middle-aged and not for the young (unless a matter of life or death for the young). Frankly life without any kind of bread seems unnatural, and if your brain is still developing from a child's to an adult's, it is better not to play around with low-calorie diets.. Also, this diet is heck on social life in the UK, as so much of our social life involves alcohol, sugar and flour. Developing an intolerance to bread, scones and cake is no joke after you politely partake and then feel as sick as a dog.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Ash Wednesday 2017

by Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ (1844-1889)

Elected Silence sing to me,
And beat upon my whorlèd ear,
Pipe me to pastures still and be
The music that I care to hear.

Shape nothing, lips: be lovely-dumb:
It is the shut, the curfew sent 
From there where all surrenders come
Which only makes you eloquent.

Be shellèd, eyes, with double dark
And find the uncreated light;
This ruck and reel which you remark
Coils, keeps, and teases simple sight.

Palate, the hutch of tasty lust,
Desire not to be rinsed by wine:
The can must be so sweet, the crust
So fresh that comes in fasts divine!

Nostrils, your careless breath that spend
Upon the stir and keep of pride,
What relish shall the censers send
Along the sanctuary side!

O feel-of-primrose hands, O feet
That want the yield of plushy sward,
But you shall walk the golden street, 
And you unhouse and house the Lord.

And, Poverty, be thou the bride
And now the marriage feast begun,
And lily-coloured clothes provide
Your spouse not laboured-at, nor spun.


Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Guess What I'm Giving Up for Lent?

I will drop by the blog to post saints' thoughts on Lent, however.  I can't give up the internet entirely because of work, but there is no question that of all the earthly things (not people) to which I am deeply attached, the internet is king.

The Significance of Pancake Tuesday

When one is already on a punitive diet, it is a challenge thinking up an appropriate Lenten penance. Is it still a Lenten penance if your original goal was not personal holiness but fitting into that dress you bought at Phase 8 last summer? My guess is "No" although it is still training in self-denial.

It is Pancake Tuesday, the Anglo-Saxon world's modest and humble Carnival. No wild partying in the streets for us! When it comes to pre-Lenten binges, the Polish Fat Thursday custom of eating as many doughnuts as possible makes more sense than eating the relatively humble pancake. However, as we are frequently told, pancakes were (allegedly) a way of using up the last eggs, milk and fat in the house before Lent began. 

I am frankly astonished that members of the Latin-speaking wing of the Church ever gave up eggs and milk for Lent. Fat I can understand, but hens lay eggs and cows need milking in and out of season.* I suppose, though, that one never HAD to drink the milk: it could be made into butter and cheese instead. I wonder what happened to the eggs. 

Anyway, I like the practical, pantry-cleaning aspect of Pancake Tuesday.  I was going to buy ricotta cheese for ours, but I have suddenly decided that I will make normal carby pancakes for B.A. while making almond flour ones for myself, a la Blood Sugar Diet Recipe Book. Naturally there will be bacon.

(By the way, I hope I am not getting terribly boring on the subject of the BSD. Food, grocery shopping and cooking are suddenly fascinating. For seven years I have allowed B.A. to burble about in the kitchen after work, making very masculine, high-carb suppers, and now he sits in the warmest corner of the sitting-room reading online Catholic news while I wield the Thai fish sauce bottle.) 

Here's a cheerful post by an Evangelical at Patheos about what Christian fasting used to look like. Meanwhile, since B.A. and I have already severely cut the calories and gone teetotal at home (madness!), we will have to come up with another penitential plan. Ironically enough, it may involve cutting back on Church news. 

*Update: Or not! See Clio's scholarly comment below. 

Monday, 27 February 2017

Shackin' Up Magically Okay Now

It's amusing how quickly Trad Catholics get married once we are engaged. If we didn't live in such vulgar times, we could compose funny songs about this.

It's less amusing how long some other Catholic engagements are.

But what is least amusing at all is this post by Father Antonio Spadaro, SJ.

Update: I came across a comment that identifies the photo used in Fr Spadaro's article as that of an engaged couple taken three years ago.  

Food Without Nutrition: Are We Insane?

There's nothing like a carefully controlled 800 calorie a day diet to sharpen up your attitude towards nutrition. You want every calorie to count. Therefore, I am very glad I am using both the recipes from The Blood Sugar Diet Recipe Book and the menu plans in the back of the book.

By the way, yesterday I read a grieving mother's account of the slow death of her daughter from anorexia nervosa, so I feel guilty for writing about this. However, all around me Britons are dying a slow death from obesity, diabetes, etc. The crucial thing, for me, is when you get to your "target weight", you stop fasting and start eating for maintenance. Wondering "Oh hey, how low can I go?" and trying to find out is simply not allowed.

The first week of the BSD went pleasantly enough. Benedict Ambrose has graciously ceded his place in the kitchen to me, and I have enjoyed cooking up to three times a day as I follow the menu plans. The dishes really are tasty--and no, I am not being paid to advertise--and they solve the hunger problem for at least an hour each. There is no problem fulfilling the "Eat 5 a day" vegetable and fruit advice. Thank heavens for sparkling water and coffee.

On Saturday I prepared for a bride's "Hen Night" (shower/bachelorette) by eating the suggested breakfast (avocado and tomatoes) and then not eating lunch in order to partake of the Four O'Clock Tea goodies without guilt. This provided to be a mistake. I am not given to fainting, but I felt distinctly woozy when I emerged from the railway station, and a delay in my travels led directly to a café for a cappuccino. The smallest available jug of milk would have been more cost-effective, but I couldn't face the prospect of drinking a whole pint of milk in public on a cold day.

But the real challenge was facing the traditional tiers of the tea-room sandwich-scones-cakes offerings and realizing that very little of it had any nutritional value.  When it was not mostly sugar and white flour, it was mostly white flower and sugar. The tea-room did not stint on little cakes, but it definitely held back when it came to sandwich fillings. When I discretely pulled off the top pieces of bread, there wasn't much left. Interesting how British womanhood is conned into paying £17 for a pot of tea, half a bag of flour and a cup of sugar. Well, at least there is the cream.  I slathered the two mini-scones with cream sans jam and tucked in.

I also ate a pistachio-green macaroon, but it seemed innocent of any trace of pistachio. It tasted not of pistachio but of sugary death. The square of carrot cake was better, but after that I let well enough alone.

It was a nice hen party, incidentally, if quiet for a Saturday night Edinburgh Hen. I suggested we all run off last minute to Ibiza, but no-one fell in with this excellent plan. Instead most of us went to a cocktail bar, where I chose red wine from the list of sugars available. Half a glass left me overly loquacious on the subject of my diet and other shallow feminine topics. Another glass of red, drunk in the quieter precincts of The Scotsman hotel, left me in need of a taxi home. Socially, it was a very nice evening, but in terms of nutrition it was a wash-out.

Reflecting on this gave me a business idea: the nutritious tea. How viable this idea is, given that flour and sugar are much, much cheaper than vegetables, fruit, fish, cheese and meat, is a good question. However, it would be a nice option for high class hotels and for old-fashioned hostesses who invite friends around for tea. Meanwhile, as the UK has a "Dry January" to encourage everyone to stop drinking booze for at least a month, perhaps it should have a "Cakeless March" to get us all to  eschew the nutritionally empty, calorie-dense comestibles to which we are addicted. Incidentally, offices should ban homemade baked goods from employee lunchrooms. It's nice that British women love to share sweeties with their colleagues, but eventually someone will die from this, if they haven't already. (One also wonders if this is not generosity as much as an excuse to eat cake oneself or even an evil plan to make others as fat as one is oneself.)

Having a nutritional yet recognizably traditional tea would involve substitutions. Instead of sandwiches, one could have sandwich fillings tightly wrapped in lettuce. Scones are trickier, but I imagine something could be done with ground almonds or low-gluten flours. Jam is easily replaced by briefly cooked, mashed berries. The cakes and pastries could be replaced by strawberries dipped in chocolate, stuffed dates, nuts and clever cake-like concoctions made from eggs, nuts and dark chocolate or fruit.  And if this sounds ridiculous, what does that say about our sanity  that we would rather consume food with FEWER nutrients?

Come to think of it, I automatically put out bowls of crisps (potato chips) to go with cocktails everytime we have a dinner party. Why is it that, in English-speaking countries, so many of our party foods verge on the poisonous? Why Cheetos, not pistachios? Why cake, not exotic fruit with dark chocolate and whipped cream? Not to get all puritanical here--for I dearly love a good birthday cake--but what gives?

Friday, 24 February 2017


Well, I didn't go to Polish class after all because I had another low-carb diet side effect which I will now call the "7000 Calorie Deficit Temper Tantrum."  In short, I worked on cleaning the kitchen too long, and I was in danger of missing my train, and my husband couldn't print off the homework assignment I was going to do at the last minute, and I couldn't find my Polish graphic novel, which I thought I needed for class. Result: overturned bookcase, Polish books all over the floor and telephoned rant sounding something like:

"I've wasted five years and thousands of pounds on a language nobody asked me to learn and I have almost no opportunity to use and I can't learn anyway because I don't have the right kind of brain and am utterly rubbish at languages and it's totally unfair when my brothers and sister can learn languages easier than I can and it all ended up with me half-blind in the emergency ward of a Warsaw hospital!!!!"

To which Benedict Ambrose on the other end of the line said such soothing things as "You're not rubbish at languages" and "But your Polish is very good" and "If you like, you can take French with me."

"But I hate French," I sobbed.

Actually, I don't hate French. I just hate being bad at French and what being bad at French means for Canadians, e.g. that other Canadians had better elementary school educations than us and also have better job opportunities. Therefore I will probably go to French class with B.A. and do my very best to approximate the Parisian accent that eludes 99.99% of the French Canadian population, never mind the maudits anglais.

In the meantime, I got a big cardboard box and filled it with as much of my Polish library that would fit and shoved it in the hall closet.

But the very act of banishing all those Polish books cheered me up enough to banish my resolve to quit. After supper I checked the emails my teacher sent during my Canadian absence and wrote down all the homework I should have been doing. This morning I got up early and worked with my new Assimil: Polonais sans Peine CD kit  for an hour. (Assimil doesn't teach Polish in English.)

Thus, despite my deficiencies, I have reason to hope: every time I want to quit Polish (and those last fatal days in Warsaw were thoroughly demoralizing), I don't. If magically not quitting means that one day I will be able to speak Polish elegantly, then maybe this day will come.

Off-Topic Update: Here's a beautiful little essay by an American chap in the Catholic Herald about coming back to the Faith.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

It's Tłusty Czwartek!

If my Polish professor brings us pączki tonight, I will take mine home and share it with my husband after supper.

But for all of you who are not on ridiculously low carb diets, feel free to eat an entire doughnut or three in celebration of the Polish carnival!

Incidentally, my spring dresses fit better already. Hooray, 6000 calorie deficit!

Trads and Matrimonial Advertisements.

It is well-known now that the parents of Benedict XVI met in the matrimonial ads.  His parents kept it a secret from him and siblings, but naturally after Joseph Junior became pope, a German reporter sniffed it out. Here it is: 

“Middle-ranking civil servant, single, Catholic, 43, immaculate past, from the country, is looking for a good Catholic, pure girl who can cook well, tackle all household chores, with a talent for sewing and homemaking with a view to marriage as soon as possible. Fortune desirable but not a precondition.” 

The future Frau Ratzinger  was 36 and a trained cook, and despite being over 35 she bore three children, both sons becoming priests. It's a happy story. I love how Joseph Senior underscored that he had an "immaculate past" before stating he was looking for a "pure" girl. Yes, unless you have an immaculate past yourself, chaps, don't get your heart set on a "pure" girl. A smartened up, currently chaste girl is good enough for you. 

The ad was placed in a Bavarian Catholic paper in July 1920 (when both Church and society encouraged single men to be immaculate and single women to be pure, so it was weird and generally shocking if you weren't), so it makes complete sense that Joseph Senior would immediate flag his ability to provide and signal his interest in women who would make a good homemaker. The fortune bit is quite funny, since surely Bavarian women of fortune could do better socially than a middle-ranking civil servant, but hey, money comes in handy. 

There are dating websites for Traditional Singles, and so small is the Traditional Catholic community that I immediately recognized TWO of the local Trads on this website.*They both go to Mass regularly and have proper careers, but I don't know them well to gave a précis of their personalities, so you would have to investigate yourselves. Yes, it's Catholic Match, but I am being magnanimous. Besides, one of the local Trad women (none of whom I recognized, by the way) foolishly didn't add a photo and started her ad "It's been a tough few years" so now I have the opportunity to STRONGLY encourage you not to do this. ALWAYS have a photo. NEVER mention unhappy stuff. Men are visual. Men prefer happy. Dear Lord. This should be taught in high school. 

There are also Traditional Catholic Singles and Latin Mass Dating, about which I know nothing, and there is even SSPX Singles, which you may wish to consider even if you do not frequent SSPX chapels.  How interested SSPX fans will be in the merely Extraordinary Form and Traditional Doctrine Positive is a question, however. Of course, a sudden infusion of new blood in the SSPX courtship scene might provoke interest. Again, it's a relatively small community, except in France. 

Normally I despise dating websites because they are much too much like shopping for people, and indeed I anticipated them in 1987 or so when I wrote a series of stories called "Man Shortage", "Man Shortage II", etc. My heroine drunkenly wished for a catalogue of Single men that she could choose from in her search for a date. At least one of these stories was published in the school newspaper, and I got a talking to from an RE teacher because my heroine (unlike myself, incidentally) preferred blue-eyed blonds, which he thought rather neo-Nazi. However, when it comes to Traditionalist Catholic communities, internet dating is less like shopping and more like finding a plank to cling onto as the ship goes down. 

It doesn't strike me as traditional for tradition-minded Catholic women to place their own ads, but I suppose they have to, to answer the ads of traditional Catholic men. Really the most important thing in a woman's profile, in my humble opinion, is the photograph. Sad from a female perspective, but true. Men are who they are and not who we want them to be. No bikini shots, naturally. Marital status first or career? Hmm. If you don't have a career, you could put your dad's career. How old-fashioned is that?

Doctor's daughter, 32, single, university-educated (Aberdeen), obedient to Church teachings, from Stonehaven, enjoys cooking, baking, child care, is looking for a traditional Catholic man, age 30-45, with a professional career, with a view to marriage. 

"As soon as possible" doesn't sound as nice coming from a woman, does it? Meanwhile, you may have a job working at the pet shop, but honestly, who cares? If a guy cares about marrying within his class, "doctor's daughter" covers that; if he cares about education, you mentioned uni; if he's worried about chastity, that's covered as much as you want it to be; if he's looking for feminine (and they all are), cooking, baking and children covers that....and now you make your demands. Trad Catholic. Your age group. Professional and money-making. Marriage. All that walking on the beach stuff is stupid. Be practical, taciturn and look nice in your photo. Smile. 

If you do have a career, however, mention that at the beginning, for the sake of men terrified of the potentially crushing financial burdens that come along with dependents, aka housewife and kids. 

Secondary school teacher, 35, widowed, one child, obedient to Church teachings, from Glasgow, athletic, enjoys homemaking, is looking for a traditional Catholic man, age 35-45, employed in trade or profession, with a view to marriage. 

My fictional Glaswegian secondary school teacher is either less fussed about class than the fictional doctor's daughter or from a blue-collar family. She lives for marathons, but it's better to preserve the mystery by just saying "athletic". 

As for the trad guy, I think Joseph Ratzinger Senior's ad is a good template, except for the emphasis on sexual purity. Too much of an emphasis on purity today may scare the purest of virgins because of the creepiness of contemporary virgin-hunters. Start with the career. 

Museum curator, widower, trad Catholic, 47, no children, from Dundee, is looking for a trad Catholic woman, never married or widow, 30-50, who has a professional career she enjoys with a view to marriage as soon as possible. Natural red-heads preferred.  

That's for B.A., in case I should snuff it and he doesn't go into a monastery after all. He loves to cook, but he doesn't like housework, so my professional lady replacement should hire a daily instead of preaching about equality in household tasks. B.A. is an example of a trad Catholic man who does appreciate a financial contribution to ye olde household accounts. The Scottish heritage industry is not a field in which a man gets rich--unless he owns tartan tat shops. By the way,  B.A. might consider a 17 year age gap a bit big, but I don't--not for men over 40 anyway.

The photo is a bit trickier for men, but in general, just look like yourself on a work day, only happy.

*I find it odd, however, that I don't recognize more of the Edinburgh ones. If they aren't going to the one FSSP Sunday Missa Cantata in town, why are they described as "traditional"? They could be at the SSPX's Sunday Low Mass, but if they aren't, I'm puzzled.

Update: In case anyone is disturbed by my posthumous plans, I'm not dying; I just like using B.A. as an example.

Update 2: I wonder if women-over-30 specifying age is a limiting move? I can WELL understand women under 30 being firm about no-one over 40 or even 35, but after a woman turns 30, older men are often more attractive than they were before she turned 30. My only concern (were I a 35 year old widow) would be an elderly man hoping to find himself free nursing help. Well, then there's the bullying factor. Sometimes I am quite astonished at things men of my parents' generation say. Others are wonderfully charming, however.