31 May 2011


I observed this exchange in my Facebook feed today (names redacted):

Proud Dad: Little Girl: "I'm baptizing him (pointing to a stuffed animal). "He's not a little heathen anymore."

Friend Dad: Little Boy is still available for early betrothal if Little Girl doesn't end up at a convent.

Proud Dad: I might be able to scrounge together some used books as a dowry.

Friend Dad: That should be sufficient.

I am so pleased to know people like this!

27 May 2011

On Forgiveness

I am proud to call Rosario Rodriguez my friend. She is an amazing, beautiful, strong woman who has been through a lot, especially in these last couple of years. Rosario was our neighbor in L.A., and we regularly gave her rides to church, and sometimes my husband gave her a ride to work. She was part of the little group of us who sometimes had dinner together after Mass. One day we gave her a ride to a friend's house less than a mile from our own place, where she was going to house-sit. She went out again later that night to run an errand. The next day we got a terrible, shocking text message from a mutual acquaintance--"Rosario was shot last night"--and went to see Rose in the hospital.

She looked so small and fragile, almost childlike in that hospital bed. She has come a long way since then, but don't believe those cop shows where someone gets shot and shows up back at work a couple of weeks later. Rose is still not 100%, a year and a half later.

Here is Rosario, talking about forgiveness, and the consequences of not forgiving:

26 May 2011

St. Philip Neri

When I was a sophomore in high school, my parents asked me to abandon my beloved little classical Catholic prep school in favor of the big Catholic high school in town, for a period of one year, basically to see if I could hack it. They weren't sure about how the little school's academic standards would compare. As it turned out, they needn't have worried--I did very well, and was actually quite bored in English class. The biology and French classes were good and useful (I couldn't have had that at little Trinity), and I also learned a lot of non-academic things that I sort of wish I hadn't learned until college, if ever. It wasn't a fun year, and I was thrilled to return to Trinity the next fall.

One oasis in that purgatory was study hall. I had a free period twice a week in the spring semester which I spent in the library under the watchful eye of an elderly Christian Brother whose name I don't remember. He was probably 80 years old and apparently had something wrong with his throat, perhaps emphysema, because he coughed a lot and could hardly speak above a whisper. He was suspicious of the students generally, and I was no different, at first. That was until he noticed that I always sat at the table near the shelf with saints' biographies, so I could read them without checking them out and hauling them home in my already over-stuffed backpack.

One day he pointed out a biography of St. Philip Neri. "Try this one," he whispered. I did. I was enchanted. If I hadn't already been reading The Interior Castle and decided that my confirmation name would be Teresa, I might have taken the name Philippa. I wouldn't say that I developed a great devotion to St. Philip Neri, but I still get a warm, happy feeling whenever I think of him. It pleased me greatly to encounter his name when I was studying 16th century polyphony of the Roman School.

Reading about St. Philip Neri again today, I see that he is the patron saint of the U.S. Special Forces. In previous years this would not have meant much to me, but now I live not far from Fort Bragg, which is home to a Special Forces group. There are a number of current and former Special Forces officers who attend our parish. May God bless them through the intercession of St. Philip Neri, and all others who are under his patronage.

03 May 2011

Aquaponic Adventure

Have you ever heard of aquaponics? It's a food-growing system that combines hydroponics with aquaculture (fish farming). The problems with hydroponics and aquaculture are that you have to constantly add nutrients to a hydroponic system, and remove waste products from aquaculture systems. Aquaponics, however, is a closed system: the waste from the fish provides nutrients to the plants, and the plants filter the water to send back to the fish. You do have to make slight pH adjustments and top up the water, but that is pretty much all the maintenance that needs to be done once the system is up and running.

We've started building a small aquaponic set-up in our garage. We mounted the frames from which we'll hang the grow lights this morning. A couple of weeks ago, our re-purposed food-grade barrels arrived, and we cut the top off the barrel that will hold the fish, and cut the other barrel in half to make two grow beds. This is a common first aquaponic set-up, and when we have a frame built for the barrels it will look something like this. For fish, we will start with inexpensive goldfish. That way, we won't be heartbroken if things go wrong and the fish die. Once we have things going, we will introduce an edible fish like tilapia or another variety of perch. These fish are omnivorous, so they'll eat trimmings from the plants as well as fish food, and they are tolerant of the water temperatures we'll be able to achieve without a heater or very deep water (unlike trout, that require colder water). They also grow to eating size in about six months!

But when we get the plumbing together, we'll just have goldfish. They'll feed the veggies well enough. There are two ways to grow the veggies--on floating rafts, which requires the solids to be filtered out of the water, or in grow media like gravel or clay balls. We'll be using grow media, so we don't need a filter.

There are all kinds of extensions to the system that people have posited, if you want a more comprehensive food-growing operation. One that was proposed in a recent, interesting TED talk by Charlie Price of Aquaponics UK posited a system that included chickens and two sets of worms or grubs. One set of worms is fed to the chickens. Chicken waste is fed to the second set of worms. The second set of worms are fed to the fish. Fish waste feeds the plants, and waste from the plants (old plants that are no longer fruiting) are fed to the first set of worms. So now you get eggs and meat as well as fish, fruits, and vegetables. If you could work in a goat or two you'd have a farm and all food groups represented.

The main advantage of aquaponics over traditional vegetable gardens is growth rate, fruit production, and in an indoor system, protection from insects. We planted our lettuce, tomatoes, basil, carrots, beets, chives and parsley outside weeks ago. They are still tiny little sprouts, and many of them died because the weather has been unfavorable (high winds and alternating heat with torrential rains). We also have an infestation of strange little white ant-like insects who are eating the peat pellets that we started the seeds in, and damaging the seedlings' roots in the process. This won't be a problem in the aquaponics system. We'll probably have to deal with fruit flies, but that's easy to handle. Aquaponically grown plants grow faster than traditionally farmed produce, as well. The grow lights help with that. Check out the pace of growth in this aquaponics system: comparison pictures. The tomato plants that I started indoors in February and transplanted into pots rather than into the outdoor beds have taken twice as long to get that big.

So, here we go! Fresh veggies in another couple of months.