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At the age of 8, Zion Harvey has become the first child to successfully undergo hand transplants for both of his arms. The pediatric medical procedure is the first of its kind and the doctors are hopeful that it will be able to afford thousands people who have lost or were born without limbs.

This historic medical achievement couldn’t have helped a more deserving candidate. Zion is one of the sweetest, most articulate kids we’ve seen:

A year after his transplant, his hands are growing strong. In an interview with Today, he was asked what his favorite thing about having hands was:

Thank you to the doctors at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for reaching this medical milestone. We are in awe.

Source: aleteia.org

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Special Christopher Awards will be presented to honor the outstanding public service of two remarkable people at the 68th annual Christopher Awards ceremony here on Tuesday, May 16th. Patti Ann McDonald, widow of NYPD Detective Steven McDonald, will receive the Christopher Leadership Award, and pediatric rehabilitation doctor Chuck Dietzen will receive the James Keller Award.

The Christopher Leadership Award recognizes individuals whose work, actions, and example serve as a guiding light to others. Previous winners include Captain Scotty Smiley, the U.S. Army’s first blind active-duty officer.

When her husband, New York City police officer Steven McDonald, was shot and paralyzed in the line of duty in 1986, Patti Ann McDonald stood by his side and supported him through challenges the couple could never have imagined when they took their wedding vows a few months earlier. Steven earned deserved praise over the years for forgiving his assailant, serving as an international peace advocate, and giving witness that life with a disability can still be filled with purpose and joy. And Patti Ann deserves a great deal of praise herself.

Steven credited her with giving him the will to live 31 years ago, so they could together raise the child she would soon give birth to: a son they named Conor. Patti Ann’s trust in God kept Steven hopeful that better times were ahead, and her modeling of sacrificial love became the rock that Steven and Conor could always lean on. In addition, after years as a Trustee of the Village of Malverne, Patti Ann was elected Mayor. She is serving her tenth year in that position. She’s also coached tennis for a local school for 12 years; and she and Steven both coached a girls’ basketball and softball team.

Steven McDonald passed on earlier this year, but the love he shared with Patti Ann remains eternal. She has become a living witness to the Christopher ideal that “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” For that reason, The Christophers are honored to present Patti Ann McDonald with our 2017 Christopher Leadership Award.

The James Keller Award, named after The Christophers’ founder, recognizes individuals who are positively shaping the lives of children. Past winners include Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

Dr. Chuck Dietzen has been helping kids all his life, thanks to the influence of his parents who took in 150 foster children over 20 years. Regarding his mother and father, he said, “My parents didn’t preach giving and caring for others. They demonstrated it on a regular basis.” When he decided to pursue a medical career in pediatrics, his background in sports led him to physical rehabilitation as a specialty, working with disabled kids. His mission expanded more in 1997, after an encounter with Mother Teresa. From her, he learned, “Be ordinary, but have an extraordinary mission.”

That experience prompted Dr. Chuck to ask himself, “Why did God put me here?” The answer he came up with was, “I’m here to save every child I can, and do what I can to relieve suffering. But the other part of that is revealing to others that we weren’t all born to be doctors and nurses, but we were all born to be healers.” Soon after, Dr. Chuck founded Timmy Global Health, which enlists students and medical volunteers in its mission to bring healthcare to those in need around the world. The organization is named after Dr. Chuck’s brother who died a few days after birth, and it was developed as a living legacy to pediatric hospice.

Dr. Chuck has come to see his patients as “Pint-Sized Prophets,” the title of the book for which he is also winning a Christopher Award this year. He says, “I think the beauty of this work is when you allow yourself to get close enough to these kids, your heart will be broken and, at the same time, healed…They are incredible souls who were sent here to make us better, to make us more compassionate, more kind, more human.”

The Christophers, a nonprofit organization, is rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition of service to God and humanity.  The ancient Chinese proverb —“It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness”— guides its publishing, radio, online and awards programs.  More information is available at www.christophers.org.

Follow The Christophers on Facebook and Twitter.

Source: aleteia.org

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Dreams, especially for those who remember them, play a large role in our lives. They can be so vivid and feel so real that waking up to this reality can feel odd, almost as if our dream worlds are just as real as our waking world. Dreams have the potential to affect our waking moods and cause introspection and deep thought, especially when certain dreams seem to appear again and again.

What do they mean?

Some people may not be plagued by this question, of course. For many, dreams seem to be nothing more than a surreal reimagining of the events and thoughts of the recent past. Chances are that if you’re reading this, however, you question the meaning behind these dreams – especially the ones that just won’t seem to go away.

Recurring dreams can feel like a blessing or a curse, depending on their content. Sure, if you dream every night about living a luxurious life on your own private island, you’re probably not bothered by it – in fact, this would be a wonderful way to spend your sleeping hours. But due to the nature and origins of recurring dreams – which will be explained shortly – they are often representative of unresolved issues and feelings and typically manifest in more negative ways when we drift off into dreamland.

What Are Recurring Dreams, Exactly?

Recurring dreams are those separate dreams that contain a similar theme over a consistent period of time. The specific details may shift, the colors and characters might change, but the overall subject matter remains the same. They may seem nonsensical or you might understand what’s going on – everyone’s reaction to these dreams are bound to be different.

But one factor remains the same: Recurring dreams seem to linger in our waking thoughts more intensely than other dreams.

Why Do Recurring Dreams Happen?

Some psychologists believe that dreams act as a bridge between our conscious and subconscious selves. This connection can be extremely instrumental in providing resolutions for lingering psychological or emotional issues, whether they’re related to dysfunctional relationships, loss or abandonment or issues with self-esteem and beyond.

Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud believed that recurrent dreams represent our unfulfilled desires, while his Swiss counterpart, Carl Jung, said of recurring dreams:

While it may be tempting to pinpoint the exact origin or even that inspires this dream, but that might prove emotionally exhausting or unnecessary. Your intuition can be one of the most useful assets when attempting to glean the meaning behind these recurring dreams or why they happen, because dreams are so inherently and intensely personal. It is nearly impossible for anyone to assert the ultimate meaning of recurring dreams, and there is likely some truth behind the claims of each psychoanalyst or psychologist that attempts to do so.

Part of the process of discovering the meanings and reasons behind your recurring dreams is attuning yourself to your intuition and listening to what the whispers of your spirit are trying to tell you.

Common Recurring Dreams & Their Potential Meanings

Falling

Dreaming of falling is a very common dream for many people. These dreams typically represent certain fears or anxieties, or a general sense of feeling out-of-control. Recurring dreams of falling can also indicate subconscious feelings of failure in some area of life.

Being Naked in Public

Have you ever dreamt that you’re in school or at work, surrounded by people, and fully nude? This dream seems to be one of the most ubiquitous dreams out there, and while it may seem like a funny concept while you’re awake, it can feel terrifying and embarrassing during your dream state. This common dream correlates with feelings of vulnerability and insecurity. It can also represent a push toward openness, perhaps with yourself or with others.

Being Chased

This recurring dream can feel more like a nightmare or even a night terror. While this dream is tied to anxiety, it is a specific kind of anxiety – the kind you experience when you have a deadline looming and you haven’t started your project. Being chased in your dreams represents an issue or issues that need your attention in real life, but which you are neglecting.

Dying

Dreams of dying or being close to death are horrifying when they’re happening, however, their underlying meaning is lighter and more benevolent than it may seem. In dreams, death typically represents change – either current or upcoming. Perhaps you sense subconsciously that things are about to transition for the better, but your conscious mind seems to ignore the upcoming positive changes. This dream might be urging you to look forward to the things ahead.

Digging Deep Into Your Dreams

There are many useful tools that can help you understand, recall and even control your dreams, such as dream journals and encyclopedias – check out our dream dictionary right here! A dream journal can be made out of any notebook or journal you like – simply write as much as you can remember of your dream as soon as you wake up. (The more you move around and become alert, the more the dream tends to fade away). As time goes on, this habit will become second nature and even help you remember your dreams more clearly.

A dream encyclopedia describes the meanings behind common and some uncommon dreamy themes. As you remember more of your dreams and learn about their meanings, and by tapping into your intuition, you’ll begin to understand what your sleeping spirit is trying to tell you.

No matter how you initially begin the project of digging deep into your recurring dream’s meanings, just remember not to ignore them. They are trying to tell you something, and simply rejecting their message will not make them go away.

Center yourself and learn to listen to the messages of your recurring dreams; the advice within might be exactly what you need to hear.

Related Article: Dream Interpretation: Enhance Recall & Decipher Key Themes

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Source: astrologyanswers.com

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Aries, you are the childlike, vibrant 1st sign of the zodiac, ever ready for action and never about to back down from a challenge. Fiercely competitive with yourself and others, when you set out to do something, you have a laser-like focus that can be downright intimidating for those with less intensity.

That is, until you feel you’ve gotten what you want and there’s either nothing left to learn or gain, or it just stops being fun. You can be accused of being selfish or shallow, but really, your boundless energy needs an ever-present target or you deflate like a balloon. Cardinal fire sign Aries is a leader, an initiator and a real go-getter. To slow down is to give up.

Aries, what is your relationship style? When it comes to love, what could hold you back and what has the capacity to help you achieve your greatest desires? We all have strengths and weaknesses, and they can both be used to our best advantage once we better understand them.

We are going to look at potential pros and cons in love for you Aries, as well as your highest and lowest compatibility with other zodiac signs.

Aries Pros in Love

  • You are fearless and up for anything
  • You are positive and seek to spread that energy
  • You are confident and decisive
  • You are enthusiastic and ever curious

Aries Cons in Love

  • You can be intensely competitive
  • You have no filter
  • You can be a pain when you don’t get instant gratification
  • You lose interest quickly

To constrict or confine you, or to force you into a routine is just not going to work, and those who want to catch your eye in hopes of a relationship had better understand that. It’s not that you can’t commit – you are happiest when in love, challenged by an equal – you can’t handle neediness, those who can’t make up their minds and those who crave order and the comfort of repetition.

Aries is ruled by the war planet Mars, and is “associated with confidence and self-assertion, aggression, sexuality, energy, strength, ambition and impulsiveness. Mars governs sports, competitions and physical activities in general” – wikipedia. In Roman mythology, no one messed with Mars. Like your ruling planet, people should be aware of what happens when they push your buttons!

In love, you are passionate, deeply sexual and open to trying anything. Life is one big experience for you, and you don’t want to miss out by saying no. You are wildly entertaining with a million, ‘Been there, done that,’ stories to share, so anyone looking to get physical with you will be pleasantly surprised, and maybe a little overwhelmed by your vivacity.

You would do well with those who share your lust for life, learning and achievement, whether in sport or industry. Being physically active is important to you, so you need a partner who can match you on the tennis court – you won’t have to wrestle a bag of chips out of their salty hands to force them to go for a run with you. You need to feel like you’re moving ahead in some way at all times.

Think about an actual fire – it needs oxygen to survive and thrive! When you think about compatibility, it can be as simple as considering the elements. Water and earth signs dampen and extinguish fire’s flame, while fellow fire signs stoke them and air signs give them life and encourage them to grow.

Most Compatible: Gemini, Leo, Sagittarius

Chatty Gemini is a mutable air sign and in a constant state of flux. Their very nature is dual-sided, meaning you rarely know what to expect, most especially with what comes out of their mouths! Your blunt communication style comes from an honest place – you call it like it is and waste no time. Gemini is a storyteller, a myth maker and an entertainer above all.

Gemini keeps it light, so you’re unlikely to offend them with words. You will laugh – a lot – and learn much from each other as you experiment in life and in the bedroom. This combination can be uninhibited, so expect passion, sparks galore and some dirty talk you might not want to repeat! A Gemini/Aries match will be anything but boring, keeping each other on your toes.

A Leo/Aries match would be intense, with two fiery extroverts fighting for the spotlight. Competitive Aries will encourage the social performer in Leo, and as long as these two don’t end up working against each other, this is a very powerful pair. The key will be to take some occasional downtime – all this fiery energy can be exhausting, and neither will back down to admit they’re beat.

Creative Leo likes to please their lover, so adventurous Aries should have a challenging and perhaps acrobatic lover in the lion. Expect to wake up the neighbors, as Leo will want to attract as much attention as possible when they are in the throes of passion. Aries needs to remember a compliment goes a long way with their Leo lover.

Sagittarius is the intellectual fire sign to Aries’ physical flame. Archers love to dream, looking at the bigger picture over boring details. Between these curious characters, life will be a blur of fun, travel and trying new experiences anywhere they can be found. Here’s another experimental sign up for taking risks, so sexual encounters will be lively and intoxicating. Make sure to stretch first.

These two signs are both blunt in communication, which should be interesting if either sign gets more heated than usual. Aries and Sagittarius keep a positive outlook, and will be willing to look past anything minor in order to keep moving forward. This pairing would be exciting, and with Sagittarius’ zest for discovery and Aries’ decisiveness, they can make anything happen.

Least Compatible: Cancer, Capricorn, Pisces

Homebody water sign Cancer is introverted…and very sensitive. Outspoken Aries will find it exasperating when Cancer bursts into tears about something that seems innocuous. Cancers love very deeply and anything they feel is a slight against them, or makes them worry that you don’t love them back will leave them anxious and even passive-aggressive.

If Cancer could see that Aries is really a child at heart and means no harm, they will have a champion in their corner who could help them come out of their shell. Aries would find themselves so well taken care of by nurturing Cancer, they’d never have to cook again! In the bedroom though, Cancer might be too shy for passionate and experimental Aries.

Structured Capricorn is about as opposite in energy to spontaneous Aries as you can get. Action-loving Aries wants to make things happen and finds thrill in the chase, the challenge of figuring out a way to get what they want in a hurry, and have no problem taking risks and losing. There’s always another opportunity, after all.

Capricorn needs security, to plan and to carefully consider each move they make, especially in love. They protect their hearts so as to ensure they never give anything away too quickly or end up looking foolish. Capricorn moves much too slowly for impulsive Aries and rams will likely get bored before they can put in the required time to properly woo them.

Emotional, sensitive Pisces is likely to drive Aries nuts with their constant need to talk about feelings and their inability to make decisions. These gentle creatures don’t have a killer instinct and can be very self-conscious and co-dependent in relationships, which is not going to work for confident Aries. Pisces will be very devoted in love, but to Aries, it may seem suffocating, not romantic.

Conclusion

Just because you don′t seem to align with someone on paper doesn′t mean it won′t work out. There are many other factors to consider, including the rest of their primal triad – their moon and rising sign. Having a birth chart done for both of you could definitely provide more insight into your compatibility!

For example, the 7th house rules partnerships and will tell you how you communicate and feel about being in one. For example, if you have Virgo in your 7th house, you′ll need a partner who understands you′re not cool with over-the-top or cheesy displays of affection. You just won′t be able to handle it!

You can try out Astrology Answers′ free love compatibility test here to get an initial idea of where you sit.

Related Article: Aries, do You Want to be Successful? Follow these 10 Tips

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Source: astrologyanswers.com

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Persuasion. Some may define it as manipulation. Others looking on the bright side will nail it down as charm. What exactly is persuasion, and is it good or bad? With Mercury going direct in Leo on August 19th, your ability to enhance your message and to effectively convince others to hear you out increases significantly!

Leo gets a lot of attention for being spotlight-loving drama kings and queens who are born leaders and great performers. Today we’re going to focus on a lesser known, but not unimportant quality: their creativity! This quality can prove to be quite helpful in life, as seeing innovative solutions when life’s problems arise can keep us confident, playful, and interesting – all things that Leos are great at!

Mercury is the swift planet of communications and rules the ever-chatty sign of Gemini. Our ebullient twin friends are seemingly tireless in their efforts to charm, explain, and verbally express themselves. With Mercury ruling our gift of gab, it isn’t a stretch to assume they can be masters of persuasion.

Creative persuasion, for our intents and purposes, is about coming up with innovative ways to get your point across or to convince someone to carry out an idea they may not have accomplished without your special touch. Whether subtle or overt, used for good will or ill, here are a few movies with characters who fall somewhere on the Leo spectrum and prove to be effective in their own right when it comes to the art of persuasion. (Spoiler alert!)

1. The Usual Suspects (1995)

One could argue this movie is the epitome of creative persuasion. A customs agent is trying to assemble the full story from low-level con man Verbal Kint, one of the only survivors of a ship fire and massacre. Trying to unwind the full details, Kint lays out a tale about his ill-fated group of criminal pals who carry out a bank heist that will lead them to a deal with mob boss and agent of death, Keyser Soze.

Kint weaves his words, revealing a thorough picture of what actually happened. The real twist comes at the end, when the detective realizes that one of the witnesses to this crime may actually be the feared and mysterious villain, Keyser Soze – and the one he suspects has deftly thrown up such a persuasive smokescreen that he doesn’t realize he’s been taking a blatant confession the entire time. Masterful.

2. Primal Fear (1996)

This deliciously twisty thriller will have you on the edge of your seat and if you haven’t seen it, stop reading now because you do not want to spoil this one. Hotshot defence attorney Martin Vail lives to shine in the spotlight, so when unassuming altar boy Aaron Stampler is very publicly arrested for the brutal murder of an Archbishop in his church, he jumps to defend him pro bono.

Stuttering Stampler urgently pleads his innocence, and the cynical Vail finds his earnestness convincing, at least until the quiet victim reveals an alter ego who throws it all up in the air. By the end, the art of persuasion is revealed, devious and creative at the same time,

3. Cruel Intentions (1999)

This one might fall more towards the category of manipulation – or shrewdness at least. Bored, uber-rich teen Kathryn Meurteuil likes to mess with people’s heads. Enter her equal in ennui – stepbrother Sebastian. There’s some icky sexual attraction stuff here, but get past that. Kathryn persuades Sebastian to corrupt a teen virgin to prove it can be done. If he wins, he gets what we really wants – her.

Based on French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuse, there’s a lot of opportunities to creatively persuade others in this movie. Some make it easier than others due to their naivete, some by their desire, and some because their ego is so big they think they can’t be taken advantage of.

4. Thank You for Smoking (2005)

Dashing Nick Naylor is the chief spokesman for the Big Tobacco Industry. Here’s a guy who can sell anything – and he believes everyone does have a price. Nonplussed about his role as a spin doctor and lobbyist for a group that essentially gives people cancer, he looks at life from the point of view that anything can be argued – even the best flavour of ice cream.

This satire shows us the power of words – and how you can make people believe anything if you find the key to their doorway of acceptance. Who’s right and who’s wrong here? Is likeable Nick a sociopath, or is he simply taking his job seriously? Are politicians lambasting one ‘industy of death’ but conveniently ignoring another that’s just more socially acceptable?

5. Tootsie (1982)

Talented Michael Dorsey is an incredible New York actor who can’t get a job because he’s also a bit of a perfectionist narcissistic butthead. No one will hire this guy, but acting is his life. When he can’t persuade his fed up agent to get him a job, he takes matters into his own creative hands, dressing in drag and nailing an audition for a popular soap opera. Bam! Michael is acting again – in more ways than one!

Turns out he’s too persuasive as a woman – he becomes a sensation in the soap opera world, lands magazine covers as a confident and spicy icon. He also convinces his lovely but self-conscious co-star Julie (with whom he is also in love just to further complicate the issue) to stop taking sexist crap from their blowhard director, and in turn, Julie’s lovable but ornery dad falls in love with Dorothy too!

6. Roxanne (1987)

Based on the famous French play, Cyrano de Bergerac, Roxanne is full of charm, wit, and humour, as is the main character, CD Bales. Chief of the Fire Department in a small town, CD has it all: the respect and friendship of his small community, a head full of knowledge (he reads encyclopedias for fun), a great job, and the biggest nose you’ve ever seen in your life.

The latter proves to be an issue, especially when gorgeous rocket scientist Roxanne shows up and takes his breath away. What ensues is a hilarious, ribald plot that showcases CD’s powerful use of vocabulary, his magnetic personality and how knowing exactly what to say and when to say it may just get you everything you want.

7. Clueless (1995)

Popular Cher has been taught by her litigator father that anything can be argued in order to get what you want. Based on the Jane Austen novel, Emma (Austen also wrote a novel called Persuasion… coincidence?), Clueless centers around the naïve yet sophisticated Cher, a Beverly Hills rich kid with a heart of gold… mostly. She sweetly manipulates her way into and out of a whole run of events.

She pleads with her man-hating gym teacher for a better grade because her boyfriend dumped her, smoothly bullshits through an in-class debate on Haiti, and leads an insecure new classmate away from her desire to date a skater punk, convincing her she actually likes a quasi-hipster bozo with an influential dad. What’s really charming is when she discovers she’s talked her way into being a bit of a selfish airhead herself and decides to “use her powers for good.” It helps that Paul Rudd is being cute and kind of grouchy the whole movie as well.

8. Risky Business (1983)

Who’s zooming who? Is it ambitious high school student Joel, whose father wants him to get into Princeton? Is it beautiful call girl Lana, who expertly mesmerizes the naïve Joel with her feminine wiles? Does Lana want more than just an unforgettable night? Is she subtly persuading Joel to do much more than he signed up for?

This 80’s classic explores the loss of innocence, but also how quickly we can learn when we are paying attention. Joel gets himself into quite the pickle when he veers from his safe, wealthy, suburban life into the unknown world of prostitution and those who don’t take everything for granted.

9. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

This movie turns up on so many, many lists, but here we really do have a character so well versed in the art of persuasion, he needs less than 20 minutes of film time to completely mesmerize us and enfold the main character within his own twisted mind. Imprisoned psychiatrist and psychopath Dr. Hannibal Lecter has such a grasp on the human mind and how it can be persuaded that within a few meetings with aspiring FBI agent Clarice Starling, he unearths her origins, her ambitions, and some of her deepest, darkest memories.

Beyond that, Lecter quickly finds opportunity in Starling’s attempts to coax him into helping the FBI find another depraved killer and recognizes his chance to escape the maximum security creepy basement prison he’s been relegated to. Masterfully manipulating each situation, he cleverly devises a long-term plan to subtly persuade everyone around him to not only trust his advice, but ultimately to help him escape.

10. Ex Machina (2015)

We’ve talked a lot about persuasive teens, a seasoned twisted psychiatrist, and a clever fast talker, but how about… a manipulative AI? Caleb, a programmer in a successful search engine company wins a chance to visit the secluded and luxurious home of the CEO, Nathan. Nathan’s been working on humanoid robot Ava and needs Caleb to help him determine just how convincingly human she is. Well… Caleb finds out. Is Nathan a bad guy? Or is Ava already a brilliant student in the art of persuasion?

What’s really interesting – and terrifying – about this premise is that it makes you question our near future. Can persuasion be learned? Can the highly astute simply observe and take manipulation on as a power? Would androids have a distinct advantage because of their apparent lack of emotion, or would they ‘suffer’, as in Blade Runner, because they know they are somehow less human at the same time?

Conclusion

Are you inspired to use your newfound powers of persuasion with communicative Mercury entering creative Leo? While we’ll all feel the influence of this relationship, we don’t need the stars to help us weave a twisty tale!

Both creativity and persuasion can be learned and practiced and could prove to be very helpful to you and those around you! Being able to positively influence the lives of others is a skill to be proud of.

Related Article: 8 Movies About Being A Badass Communicator – Inspired By Mercury In Aries

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Source: astrologyanswers.com

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Is this a first?  I could be wrong, but I’m not aware of any other former U.S. congresmen ordained to the diaconate.

Details: 

And then, amid the profiles of the candidates, there’s this:

And Wikipedia notes: 

My prayers will be with all the men next Saturday.

UPDATE: An alert journalist from Wisconsin notes in an e-mail:

Deacon Blouin was another pro-life Democrat.  You can read his bio here.   

Interestingly, he was ordained in the 1980s, and ran for Governor in 2006.

Source: aleteia.org

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PIC vaccine

Catholics and vaccines. Oh, this is hard.

Can we live with letting our children profit through the deaths of aborted babies? I’ve had those awkward conversations with our pediatricians. At first, I explained why we were declining the MMR and chickenpox vaccines, because they use cells derived from cell lines from aborted fetuses. Later, we began accepting the vaccines, but registering our desire for ethically-derived alternatives.

Why did we make the change? We turned to the Church for guidance.  Bishop Elio Sgreccia, speaking for the Pontifical Academy for Life, said that

Drug companies who choose to use cell lines derived from aborted fetal tissue are guilty of formal cooperation with evil; parents who choose to use these vaccines to protect their children are not guilty of formal cooperation with evil. They are not culpable.

Many parents decide that, since vaccination is not morally obligatory, they will regretfully decline the ethically troubling vaccines even though they accept their medical efficacy.  In our family, we have decided that we do have the obligation to protect both our kids, and other people who are immuno-compromised or who cannot be vaccinated for various legitimate medical reasons. We recognize that vulnerable people face the serious threat of serious disease, especially since they can rely less and less on other parents to help make those diseases rare.

This is why, after weighing the small risks against the undisputed benefits, we vaccinate. We believe that the vaccines that are currently available are both morally permissible and safe for most people, and that while no medical treatment is 100% safe or 100% effective, the benfits they offer far outweigh the small risk of harm.

You may have heard that Dr. Theresa Deisher is working on an ethically sound version of the MMR vaccine. This is wonderful news, and as soon as an ethical, effective vaccine becomes available, we’ll certainly request that for our kids.

But here is where Dr. Deisher lost me. She recently published a study once again resurrecting a putative link between austism and vaccines that use cell lines derived from cells from aborted fetuses. Her study raises three red flags:

Red flag #1: This is a clear conflict of interest. Imagine that someone says, “My studies show that product X will make your children sick. But I’ve developed product Y, which will keep your children healthy, and I’ll be selling it soon.”  What would your first thought be? Would you assume that his studies about product X are reliable and objective? Or would you take a closer look?

I do not mean that Deisher is deliberately lying to sell her product. I do mean that, when we have personal reasons for wanting something very badly, it hinders our ability to work objectively.

Red flag #2: Her study relies on an emotional response to an ethical question. Catholics everywhere are accepting her study as Gospel truth. Why? Her theory has a special appeal for Catholics who feel a natural horror at the idea of profiting through the death of innocents. It seems only logical and just that we should suffer physically if we cooperate, even remotely, with something so dreadful as abortion. It seems like God and nature should cooperate to punish people who, in effect, rob graves for their own health.

But that’s not how it works — not medically, and not theologically. This argument — that sin always leads directly to physical suffering — is a red herring. Hundreds of the medical cures we rely on every day came from unethical sources. That is how the world works: sometimes bad actions lead to suffering, sometimes they don’t. We may not like it, but we cannot deny it. Show me an effective alternative, and I’ll use it with gratitude. But don’t tell me that God will not allow us to make good come out of evil.

Red flag #3 (the big one):   The science is just plain bad. For a short, clear, accessible explanation that helps us understand why Deisher’s study is no scientific bombshell, read this response from the Rational Catholic Blog.

Parents do not recognize the symptoms of autism until a child is a few months old, and they assume that these symptoms are caused by the vaccine their child just received. But a trained doctor can spot signs of autism in newborns, long before these symptoms are obvious to laymen. There are myriad markers of austism in newborns, in unborn children, and even in their placentas.  How could these be caused by a vaccine administered after birth?

Moreover, if DNA transplants caused autism, then people who received organ transplants or even blood transfusions would be at risk for autism. Heck, we’d be at risk for autism every time we ate a burger, because of all the cow DNA we’re allowing into our bodies.

Deisher commits the cardinal sin of scientific research: she confuses correlation with causation. There is even some question whether even the correlation she posits actually exists.

This is bad science.

I applaud her efforts to find an ethical alternative to current vaccines, I do not doubt that her motives are good, and I hope and pray that she or someone else will develop one soon.

But if we are going to hesitate over any vaccine, let it be for medically and theologically sound reasons. Dr. Deisher has not provided either. Her study displays a conflict of interest; it banks on an emotional response to an ethical question; and most damningly, it relies on heavily flawed science. Catholics should keep their eyes open for other scientists whose research is sound.

Source: aleteia.org

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We sure do buy a lot of presents around here. Today seems like a good time to talk about the ones that turned out to be good purchases — the ones our kids actually played with, and that didn’t fall apart right away, and that seemed worth the price.

All the links lead to products on Amazon. I’ve mentioned many a time, I get a small percentage of each sale made using one of the Amazon links on my page. These little bits of sales really add up, and help our family out tremendously!

We get a percentage of any sale made through Amazon, as long as you got to Amazon through using one of my links. So, for instance, if I say, “Hey, this nose pencil sharpener really turned my life around!” and you click on that link, you hate the nose pencil sharpener, you keep shopping, and you eventually order a diamond nose studinstead, I will get a percentage of the sale of the diamond nose stud. I will then use my Amazon credits to buy many more nose pencil sharpeners, because duh.

Here is our list, organized according to price, from “Stocking Stuffer” to “No Complaints Out Of You; We Got You Rotten Kids a Trampoline, Didn’t We?”  No remarks about our little Doctor Who problem. The pediatrician says it’s within the normal range and does not technically qualify as a disorder yet.

Note: a few of the prices may have changed in the few days it took me to put this list together! Everything is more or less the same, though.

  1. Dover Stained Glass Coloring Books

     $1.39 and up.
    Oh, so nice, and available in every imaginable theme for boys and girls. I love hanging these up in the windows, especially when it gets dark and bleak outside. Tip: color on both sides of the page, to make the colors more brilliant.

  2. Spock Ears

    $3.50
    These Spock Ears are Spock Ears that go on your regular ears.

  3. Strongbad decal

    $3.89
    You will need this for your car window or laptop or locker door if you ever break your . . . clavicus . . . majoris.

  4. Beatles Tin of Guitar Picks

    $7.99
    As advertised. Hooray for songs with only four chords! Hooray for things that come in tins!

  5. 20-40X Lighted Pocket Microscope

    $9.89
    Portable and easy to use, runs on batteries so you can bring it outside and check out bugs and whatnot.

  6. Shake ‘n’ Go Racers

    $12.98
    These go really fast — and they are powered by shaking, not batteries. The harder you shake them, the faster they zoom away when you put them down. Ingenious, tons of fun, and very durable.

  7. Car Keys
    $13.15
    Babies are not supposed to suck on your real car keys because of the toxins or something, but car key toys are usually made out of plastic, which is no fun for babies. So these are made out of safe metal (with flat edges, so they can’t cut their gums), they are heavy and they rattle, and the keychain has different buttons that make various car noises — but it’s muffled, so not terribly intrusive. (We like a lot of the toys from the B. company. They hold up well and are designed with actual kids in mind.)
  8. Set of 20 Multicolored Sky Lanterns

    $13.30
    Fine, we haven’t actually used these yet. BUT I CAN’T WAIT. Maybe if you have aTangled fan in the house, this would be an exciting present.

  9. Greek Coin Replicas

    $14.90
    I dunno, maybe your kids would want these. We have a kid who really likes owls, so he got something similar to these, a drachma coin made into a pendant from Etsy. Neat, unexpected little present.

  10. Groovy Girls dolls

    $10.00-$15.00
    Smaller, soft, colorful dolls with cute hair and nice little outfits (the clothes don’t come off). Neither trashy nor simpering.

  11. Bananagrams

    $10.95
    Sort of like free-form Scrabble, you race to build up a group of intersecting words, and whoever uses up their tiles first wins.  You can vary the rules to make it a quick or a long game, and you can easily introduce handicaps so adults can play with younger kids. I never mind playing a round or two of this game.

  12. Zoetrope Animation Toy

    $12.90
    For the doodler of the house. Make a simple animated picture on a strip of paper, fit it inside the wheel, peek through the slots, and watch it move. A very old toy, simple and cool.

  13. Totoro lunch bag

    $12.99
    For the person in your house who really, really wants a Totoro lunch bag. This one is sturdy and made of soft, water-resistant fabric.

  14. Weeping Angel Earrings

    $11.99
    Don’t blink. Blink and they’ll be $12.01.

  15. TARDIS pendant
    $14.98
    Surprisingly heavy little piece of jewelry. A lot of the TARDIS pendants we looked at were half-TARDISes, which are only half as big on the inside. No fun at all.
  16. LEGO Wii games

    around $15.00
    We have Batman, Batman 2, LOTR, Star Wars Complete Sage and Clone Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones, both Harry Potters, and I forget what else. Everyone agrees that Batman 2 is the best. Tons of fun, not too too loud, and they are filled with cute little weird jokes and sight gags.  They involve fighting, but the people just fall apart into Lego pieces, so no gore.

  17. Butterfly Wings

    $15.29
    All of our girls want wings, but nothing is more tragic than when the metal bends and the wings flop. These wings don’t have frames. Instead, they have shoulder straps and finger loops, so you can flap nicely with your arms outstretched. Durable and pretty. They come in purple, pink, and orange, and are responsible for melting the hearts of many a playground mom.

  18. Wooden Pattern Blocks

    $15.99
    The right kid will find these endlessly fascinating. There are many versions. This Melissa and Doug set comes with a sturdy wooden box and several patterns to try to reproduce, or you can build your own designs.

  19. Snake Oil game

    $16.61
    A hilarious family game, also good for parties. Blogged about it here.

  20. Tournament Chess Set with Roll-Up Board

    $16.99
    We were SO pleased with this set. It is HUGE, the board is very tough, and the pieces are big and heavy. Great product for the price, and portable.

  21. Kinetic Sand

    $17.69
    This stuff is awesome. You can squeeze it and shape it, or you can let it dribble out of your hands like . . . wet sand lace foam, or something. You can buy kits with molding toys, but cups and butter knives work fine.

  22. Wooden Family Doll Set

    $18.21
    Oh my gosh, these dolls don’t fall apart. Their arms and legs and heads don’t fall off, their hair doesn’t fall out, their clothes don’t unravel, and they don’t have creepy faces that make you want to hurl them across the room. Great size for doll houses, and they come in a nice little wooden box. They also have African American families, royal families, etc.

  23. Magnetic Dress-Up Dolls

    $18.44
    Wow, more Melissa and Doug! I guess I’m a fan. We had a kid who loved the idea of paper dolls, but found the little tabs endlessly frustrating. These made a nice compromise: you can mix and match the outfits, and they just stick on with magnets.

  24. Schaeffer Calligraphy Set

    $18.69
    So you say you’d love to let your kids have that magical, sensual experience of writing in pen and ink, but you’re not dumb enough to turn them loose with a bottle of ink? Here is a lovely set, with 3 pens, 3 nibs, and a bunch of pre-filled ink cartridges in various colors. Also includes an introductory calligraphy booklet.

  25. Fairy Design Kit

    $19.98
    Years and years later, the girls still love these. We had a friend who had the Barbie version of these — you remember! You lay the paper over it and rub over it, and the faces, bodies, and clothes magically appear. Then kids can color it in, add details, etc. Pretty fairy vignettes.

  26. LED rope lights

    $19.99
    Makes rooms awesome the LED way. 16 feet of awesomeness that doesn’t overheat if your wiener kids leave them on all night.

  27. Curious George Tin Tea Set

    $19.99
    TIN TEA SETS. Why did we not think of this several daughters ago? You do need to dry them off so they don’t rust, but it’s so much better than endlessly gluing broken shards together.

  28. 14″ Bride, Ballerina, and Princess Dolls

    $21.99
    Pleasant faces on these dolls, who are proportioned like little girls, and not like, you know, strippers. We got three of these last Christmas, and no limbs have fallen off, and the dresses have held up for a solid year without ripping, unravelling, or even going limp.

  29. Bushnell Falcon 7×35 Binoculars

    $23.99
    Heavy and easy to use, with a nice carrying case. Good price for the quality.

  30. TARDIS beach towel

    $24.07
    Big and bright — works well as a wall hanging or door cover, too.

  31. Whirl and Twirl Swing
    $25.20
    For little miss or mister Upside-Downer. Exactly as advertized. She whirls, she twirls, she hangs from her knees, I can’t watch.
  32. Wooden Chinese Checkers
    and pouch of marbles$30.56
    (and Sack of Replacement Marbles for Chinese Checkers $5.01)
    There are cheaper boards, but this one is very big and sturdy, and the marbles stay in place. Popular with kids of all ages. And for goodness’ sake, buy the replacement marbles now. You will need them.
  33. Pet Vet Center

    $29.99
    Strikes the right balance between adorable and interesting, for kids who really want to play vet, not just play puppy. The stuffed puppy has articulated joints and is posable and durable. Lots of nice details, like the X-rays and the velcro bandage, and the storage case works well.

  34. Jedi Fleece Bathrobe
    $30.54
    If you saw my ten-year-old son in this, you would die. You would just die.
  35. Gromit Microwaveable Plush

    $30.95
    I KNOW, this is a really expensive stuffed animal! But Wallace and Gromit toys are hard to find. This one, you can put in the microwave and it heats up and smells like lavender or something, I dunno. She likes it.

  36. Dragon Sword

    $32.95
    Only to be purchased by people who want to be the best parents ever. It’s not terribly sharp, but it’s not a toy, either — more of a stage or cosplay prop. Reasonably heavy and sturdy, satisfyingly long and bright, with nice details on the dragon. The chain broke pretty quickly, but we just bought some jewelry fasteners and put it back together.

  37. Doctor Who 11-piece Micro Action Figure Set

    $33.00
    As advertised. The first eleven Doctors in the palm of your sweaty little hand. A handy gift for people whose birthday is coming up right after Christmas, so you can set them up to expect one more Doctor . . .

  38. Buddha Board

    $33.99
    You use the brush to paint elegant shapes with water, and it slowly evaporates. Soothing and pleasant, comes with a little easel and water pot. This also comes in a mini version for cheaper.

  39. Make Clay Charms Book and Kit

    $34.95
    Such a hit! You can follow the directions (which were clearly tested by actual people, whew) to make the various charms pictured, or you can make up your own stuff. My daughter loves making and baking little figurines, earrings, and pendants for herself and for gifts.

  40. Roller Derby Adjustable Roller Skates for girls

    $34.99
    The best skates we’ve found for the price, comfortable and durable.

  41. Chicago Adjustable Roller Skates for boys

    $34.99
    Same review as above.

  42. Set of 9 Tempera Paints

    $24.49
    Gotta have big bottles of paints, if only for that wonderful nostalgic smell.

  43. Doctor Who David Tenant Dress

    $39.20
    This really barely qualifies as a dress and not a costume, and doesn’t have much structure; but on the other hand, SHE LOVES IT. And it looks great on her.

  44. Twilight Turtle

    $39.95
    I shuddered at the price, but when you have four little girls sleeping in one room, and some of them can’t sleep with the light on and some of them can’t sleep with the light off, this is a godsend. It projects your choice of three colors of stars onto the ceiling, and it turns off automatically after the kid has a chance to fall asleep. Much beloved. This also calmed the whole family down during a recent power outage.

  45. Rody Inflatable Ride-On Horse

    $49.95
    Pricey but very, very durable, and cute as heck. Easier to get on and off of than hopper balls. Some of the older kids even watch TV while sitting on them, which may or may not be an endorsement. Anyway, the one we have (in lime green) has stayed inflated for years, no kidding.

  46. Steel Toe Combat Boots

    $59.99
    Really tough, and just as attractive as Doc Martens, in my mompinion. We looked at a lot (A LOT) of boots, even buying and returning more than one pair, before we found these, which are the best and sturdiest ones we’ve ever seen, for a really good price. My teenage daughter is really happy with hers, and they have held up well.

  47. Tribot Remote Control Robot

    Listing this here even though I would not recommend paying the list price of $285 for it! If you can find it on Ebay or somewhere, though, snap it up. Durable, funny, easy to use, surprising, and entertaining. It is quite a noisy toy, and fairly obnoxious, but somehow endearing, and it has tons and tons of features. Its eyebrows wiggle up and down.

  48. Roller Coaster

    $95.80
    Again, not sure if I would pay full price for this — unless maybe a grandparent gave me a gift card and said to buy a group gift for a bunch of little kids. We got ours super cheap when a store was going out of business, and we’ve been using it steadily for something like ten years. It has survived many winters of being forgotten in the yard under several feet of snow, and never stops being fun for little guys.

  49. iPod Nano

    pictured: Generation 5 (discontinued, but still available)

    (price varies) Our kids have refurbished iPod Nanos, which we found after some hunting (they sell used and refurbished items on Amazon, don’t forget; or you could check eBay, etc.)  They can play music, they can watch videos, they cannot go online. Bingo.

  50. 13-foot Trampoline

    with net and ladder, $279.99
    IT’S SO GOOD. YOU SHOULD HAVE A TRAMPOLINE. NOTHING IS BETTER THAN A TRAMPOLINE. We actually have a slightly different brand, but this one looks similar. We (shh) don’t have a net, and we used a stepladder for a ladder, so ours was closer to $200. Wonderful, wonderful purchase. Every single last person likes being on it. It lifts your mood. It wears you out. It’s funny and makes your hair stand on end. And you can lie down on it and look at the stars without bugs getting in your hair. Get the biggest one you can afford.

Source: aleteia.org

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photo courtesy of Wellcome Images

 

The state medicaid program should no longer pay for elective circumcisions in NH, says a proposed bill. 

The American Association of Pediatrics doesn’t agree that the practice is “fundamentally wrong.” In an August, 2014 statement, they said (emphasis mine):

Sanest thing I’ve heard all year. Give the parents lots of sound, medical information, and then let them make up their own minds when they’re deciding how to get their kids the best care for their circumstances.

Source: aleteia.org

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In the past, I’ve written about the emotional and spiritual experience of celebrating the Passover seder as Hebrew Catholics.

This year, I’d like to talk about what’s really important: THE FOOD.

We do not keep kosher, and we don’t clean the house of chametz (leavened bread), and we don’t follow the special, even stricter “kosher for Passover” rules. The foods we prepare for Passover are symbolic and nostalgic, as well as delicious; but I wouldn’t serve them if we had a rabbi for a guest! We serve some homemade and some store bought food.

To keep this post from getting too long, I’ll post all the recipes on a separate page. Click on the names of any of the homemade foods below to get to the recipe page. Here’s what’s on the menu:

 

WINE

For the full Jewish American experience, you should at least know what Manischwitz tastes like.

I’ll save you some trouble: It’s completely awful. With every swallow, you will feel like a giant hand made out of hot syrup is squeezing your brain to death. MD 20/20 (here listed as #3 in the top five Bum Wines) is only marginally better. So unless you’re keeping kosher, which you’re not if you’re coming to me for recipes, then go ahead and just have whatever goyishe red wine you actually enjoy drinking (for cheap and drinkable, I’m partial to Yellow Tail). The seder is supposed to be a spiritual exercise, but not a penitential one.

 

CHICKEN SOUP WITH MATZOH BALLS

You know what schmaltz is, right? It’s anything corny, sappy, sentimental, and overdone (but you secretly love it)

But literally, schmaltz is rendered chicken fat. That’s the secret ingredient in what is sometimes called “Golden Chicken Soup.”

That tightness you feel in your chest is just your heart being happy!

Talk about “beaded bubbles winking at the brim!”  You want to give the flavor ple-e-e-e-e-e-enty of time to develop — all day, at the very least. You know it’s almost done when the air in the kitchen is shimmering with a golden, chickeny haze. If you can walk through the room and not come out smelling like a happy childhood in Eastern Europe, keep simmering.

Some years, the matzoh balls turn out fluffy and airy; some years they stay small and rubbery with a dry nut of undercooked matzoh meal in the center. Every year, they all get gobbled up.

 

CHOPPED LIVER

If you can get your hands on one of these:

then do!  (The good ones are pretty expensive, new.) You could, of course, use a food processor, but there are few tactile experiences more fulfilling than turning a heavy steel crank and watching the velvety pate come churning out the other end. If, you know, you like that kind of thing. WHICH I DO.

GEFILTE FISH

I was never, ever, ever tempted to make this by hand. Apparently the authentic method is to buy a few live cod and pike from the fishmonger in the Bowery, dump them in your bathtub, and then on Friday morning you head in there with a club and WHACK WHACK WHACK WHACK WHACK.
Then the real work begins. “Gefilte” means “stuffed,” as in “a fish stuffed with other fish”

For those days when you have seven or eight hours to spend wrist deep in a fish that you have clubbed to death. So, we get it in jars.

I prefer the Manischewitz brand — the other ones I’ve tried are sweeter. I prefer the fish packed in gel, rather than broth. We serve this on top of a sheet of matzoh with a dab of horseradish. It’s likely that, if you haven’t tasted gefilte fish by age five, you’ll never learn to like it. I’m okay with that. More for me.

CHAROSET

Best best best best best. Chopped walnuts, chopped apples, red wine, cinnamon, and sugar or honey.

The charoset is supposed to remind us of the mortar the Hebrew slaves used between bricks as they worked building Pharaoh’s cities. When I was little, this gave me the impression that maybe slavery wasn’t so bad after all, because best best best best best!

This is the year I finally bought what is apparently called a mezzaluna

a sharp rocking knife, for chopping all those apples and walnuts. I like this tool very much. It’s heavy and quite sharp. And if this is the year that Elijah comes back and he turns out to be a zombie– wait, no, that’s inappropriate.

 

SPICED GARLIC CHICKEN

I don’t remember where I found this recipe, but it’s moist and yummy, and I only make it at Passover, so therefore it’s Passover chicken. You already know what roast chicken looks like, so here instead is a picture of something that is very, very important to our family:

We put the lick in garlic!

as well as to this particular recipe. And here is a gratuitous chicken joke:

Tevye: As the good book says, when a poor man eats a chicken, one of them is sick.
Mendel: Where does the book say that?
Tevye: Well, it doesn’t say that exactly, but somewhere there is something about a chicken.

 

SPINACH PIE

A vegetable dish for the times when you can’t bring yourself to say, “But we areserving something green! See? Olives!” It’s pretty, anyway, and doesn’t take much time to throw together, especially if you have a food processor. Bunch of vegetables shredded up, sauteed, mixed with egg and matzoh meal, and baked (no crust involved).

TSIMMIS

not to be confused with tsuris. I don’t actually make tsimmis, but I remember when my mother used to, and it gives me an excuse to tell this joke:

Two old friends reunite after many years. One brags about her children, their professional success, their beautiful houses, their talented offspring. The other one says, “Well, I don’t have any children.” The first one says, “No children? So what do you do for tsuris?”

Anyway, Wikipedia describes tsimmes as “Ashkenazi Jewish sweet stew typically made from carrots and dried fruits such as prunes or raisins, often combined with other root vegetables. Some cooks add chunks of meat.” Am I punchy, or is that hilarious? You can almost hear the sigh at the end. “Look, this is what we eat, what do you want from my life.”

 

ROAST LAMB

Some day, when we win a million dollars or a sheep farm, we’ll serve this as the main dish. As it is, we usually buy the biggest leg of lamb we can afford for the seder dish. Last year, the electricity went out just as we were putting the lamb in the oven, so we ended up grilling it outside

and it was magnificent. Gonna do it that way every year now.

EXTRAS

Two kinds of horseradish, olives, and dill pickles. We ground our own horseradish one year, and it was unbelievably strong. The air around the dish went all wobbly, and it made an audible snarling sound when you spooned it onto your plate. Call me a coward, but I’m sticking with the jarred kind. I’ve never really tasted bad horseradish, so I don’t have a particular brand to recommend. The red horseradish is just dyed with beet juice, but tastes about the same.

Also, don’t forget a little dish of blonde raisins. These are like raisins, only they areyellow. I know.

 

DESSERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

MACAROONS

Not to be confused with macarons, which are an entirely different food! I always think I’m going to make these myself, but I always run out of time, so I buy them ready made. My favorite are the plain almond-flavored ones, but there are dozens of varieties.

HALVAH

Halvah is not strictly a Jewish food, but just a Middle Eastern one. It’s made of crushed sesame seeds, and I’m not gonna lie to you, it tastes kind of like sweet, gritty Play Doh.

I usually buy a few bars of it, some plain, some dipped in chocolate, and serve it in little slices. You gotta have it, but a little goes a long way.

CHOCOLATE MATZOH CRUNCH

Nice easy recipe. I didn’t grow up with this, but my kids go berserk for it.

SPONGE CAKE

We usually have two kinds of sponge cake made with matzoh cake meal and made poofy with tons of egg whites. We usually make two chocolate walnut cakes and two white ones. So nice with the slightly eggy crunch of the crust and the light, spongy insides.

JELLY FRUIT SLICES

 

possibly my kids’ favorite part of Passover.  These symbolic confections remind us of, um, the Land of Caanan, I guess? With fruit? Anyway, I like them, too.

***

Passover begins on the evening of April 3 this year. We always have our seder on Holy Saturday, regardless of when actual Passover is. Since Jesus’ last Passover seder with the disciples (the Last Supper) was on Holy Thursday, it almost works out this year! We usually spend Holy Week cooking and baking, and try to schedule things so the most fragrant foods are already made and in the freezer before we start fasting for Good Friday, because nobody needs to suffer that much.

Again, click here to get to the page with just the recipes.

L’chaim! Let’s eat.

 

***

Source: aleteia.org

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The day before Holy Thursday is traditionally known as “Spy Wednesday” — when Judas “spied” for an opportunity to betray Jesus. (The 13th century fresco above shows him being paid his 30 pieces of silver.)

This day comes complete with its own traditions and customs:

Wednesday is known as Spy Wednesday because on this day Judas made a bargain with the high priest to betray Jesus for 30 silver pieces (Matt 26:14-16; Mark 14:10-11; Luke 22:16). In Poland, the young people throw an effigy of Judas from the top of a church steeple. Then it is dragged through the village amidst hurling sticks and stones. What remains of the effigy is drowned in a nearby stream or pond.

This is also the day that Jesus was anointed with an expensive jar of alabaster by the woman at Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper (Matt 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-19).

Wikipedia adds:

Although it is frequently celebrated on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, the Tenebrae is a liturgy that is often celebrated on this day. The word tenebrae comes from the Latin meaning darkness. In this service, all of the candles on the altar table are gradually extinguished until thesanctuary is in complete darkness. At the moment of darkness, a loud clash occurs symbolizing the death of Jesus.The ‘strepitus’, as it is known more probably symbolizes the earthquake that followed Jesus’ death: “And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent” Matthew 27:51.

Some customs:

Czech Republic: the day is traditionally called Ugly Wednesday, Soot-Sweeping Wednesday or Black Wednesday, because chimneys used to be swept on this day, to be clean for Easter.

Malta: this day is known as L-Erbgħa tat-Tniebri” (Wednesday of Shadows) referring to the liturgical darkness (tenebrae). In the past children went to the parish church and drummed on the chairs to make the sound of thunderstorms, as their version of the “strepitus” sound at Tenebrae Wednesday.

Scandinavia: this day is known as Dymmelonsdagen. A dymbil is a piece of wood. Historically, the metal clapper of the church bells were replaced by these dymbils on Holy Wednesday, to make a duller sound. The day is sometimes confused with Ash Wednesday, and to the public, the days have started to apply to one another.

Source: aleteia.org

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After spending a half hour or so at the local Roman Catholic church, we hopped into our van and drove a few minutes away to join the liturgy at the St. Peter and St. Paul Melkite Catholic Church in Amman.

 

This tiny parish of about 400 families is presided over by Fr. Nabil Haddad, a charismatic and disarming man who is clearly much beloved by his people. Wikipedia describes him:

The liturgy was already well under way when we arrived at the church.

I’ve only been to one other Eastern rite liturgy, back when I was in formation, so this was fascinating and beautiful—and a little exotic, since most of the service was conducted in Arabic.

A few observations:

Nearly all of the liturgy is sung. There is some praying by the congregation that is spoken, but music predominates.

For this Easter Vigil, there was a lot of sprinkling, crossing, blessing, processing. The priest did not use a deacon; when I asked about it later, he explained that there were a lot of other liturgies that weekend around the city, so deacons were busy elsewhere.

The parish uses both male and female altar servers.

Much of the liturgy is conducted with the celebrant facing away from the congregation.

Communion is given on the tongue, on large pieces of bread, using intinction.

Many women donned veils to receive communion, then removed them. The church keeps a supply of cloths on a side shelf for this purpose.

They also make use of missals.

At one point in the liturgy, Fr. Nabil spoke to the congregation in English, and introduced some “special friends” who were visiting—which included our little band of bloggers. He had effusive words for the woman who organized our tour from the Jordan Tourism Board, Christine Moore.

After the liturgy, we joined him in a parish hall next door. He introduced us to his wife and two grown children. When I asked him if I could take a picture of him with his wife, he politely demurred. “Maybe another time, when you come to my home” he said, “and I’m wearing my ‘civilian’ clothes.” He smiled. “That would be more proper.”

But he did agree to a picture with a deacon.

He was happy to see his old friend Diana von Glahn, too—a woman who is nevernot on the job. Does she ever go anywhere without a camera and tripod?

Though it was a rainy, cold night, as we left the little church I couldn’t help but feel the warmth of something wondrous. The liturgy served as another reminder of just how vast and diverse the Catholic church really is. We pray in many different ways, but are bound together by a common creed, a common faith, and a certain hope: God’s boundless love accompanies us, uplifts us, consoles us, saves us.

We are Easter people, and “Alleluia” is our song.

The church in the Middle East is working valiantly and faithfully to stay alive and to stay rooted in the land where Christianity first began. Please keep Fr. Nabil and his important work in your prayers—and remember his little flock, too!

Source: aleteia.org

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Yesterday, we found ourselves in a vast sandy wasteland called Wadi Rum, also known as “The Valley of the Moon.”

Here’s how Wikipedia describes it:

The hardy bloggers and writers in my little group aren’t quite that adventurous. We settled on a jeep ride.

 

A few intrepid souls also opted for a camel ride.

 

 

 

 

The rest of us stayed with the jeeps—actually small pickup trucks with comfortable seats. The cruise around this particular neighborhood was nothing short of spectacular. I’ve always dreamed of visiting the Grand Canyon. Now I don’t have to. This looked like the American southwest on steroids.

 

 

I should mention here that one of the more endearing residents we met during our visit was a baby camel. A couple people ooh-ed and ah-ed and tried to pet it. The mother grunted, squawked and threw nasty looks at anyone who came near.

 

After our excursion, which I guess lasted about 90 minutes, we headed to the base camp, Captain’s Desert Camp.

This is something altogether different: a kind of desert hotel for tourist campers, with individual tents set up for sleeping and a massive dining hall, also a tent, for meals. This is where we had lunch—another amazing meal of traditional Jordanian fare, including fresh pita, grilled chicken and lamb, and assorted salads.

 

 

 

The desert is an overwhelming place; you can understand why people from the dawn of time have fled here to pray. But it is also a place that inspires both deep humility and profound wonder. There is beauty and majesty here to rival any cathedral.

Jordan is blessed with many places like this—its sheer scope can leave you breathless.

 

 

We got a sense of that today, when we visited Herod’s hilltop castle, where John the Baptist was executed.

 

 

The remnants of the castle are considered a Christian place of pilgrimage. But that doesn’t mean they’re easy to get to.

 

 

Once you reach the top, you are given a stunning view of the surrounding countryside, including the Dead Sea. It’s easy to understand what attracted Herod to this spot. But the site is also a place for remembrance: the scene of one of the most famous martyrdom’s in history.

 

 

 

 

To see and experience all this is humbling. And it serves as a reminder of all those who gave so much because of their faith. We are a church built on the graves of martyrs. And it’s sobering to realize, I think, that this martyrdom goes on, even today, not far from where we stood.

Source: aleteia.org

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Below is part of a letter issued last week by Bishop Larry Silva, from Honolulu:

Read the full text and more. 

There’s a detailed history of the sacrament of confirmation available at the Catholic Encyclopedia. 

More recently, Archbishop Samuel Aquila gave a lecture on the subject in 2011: 

Source: aleteia.org

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