Friday, February 3, 2012

7 quick takes Friday: February 3, 2012

1.      High Culture, meet Low Culture. I just started reading Simon Baron-Cohen’s book The Essential Difference about men, women, autism and the brain (His thesis: male brains are generally better at creating and dealing with “systems” while women are more adept at empathy; this is also related to the incidence of autism in males). It’s a great read so far, AND includes fun little questionnaires at the end to assess your own brains systems/empathy quotient. But I was trying to figure out why his name was so familiar. My husband pointed out to me that his name is very similar to Sacha Baron Cohen (aka Borat). Aha. Guilty as charged.   

2.      That Sunday WSJ article on teenagers that I talked about on Monday accidentally led me to another piece (“You Eat That?”) combining other pet interests: food and culture.
Basically, lots of people eat fermented foods that almost everyone else finds disgusting. And, it turns out, disgust is a universal emotion (if you don’t believe think you believe in such things, please check out Ekman’s work here: )
Seems that (drumroll…) disgust is a universal emotion that has to be learned. Good stuff. Lots of food for thought (sorry for the bad pun). But how come she didn’t even mention Vegemite?
3.      How ‘bout those Giants/Patriots/(fill in the blank?)…Back in the 80’s, during the Mets’ glory days, there was a New York City joke about making conversation. Awkward topics could be quickly jettisoned by raising the routine question “How ‘bout those Mets?” Sports can be a nice, safe, topic—at least within certain communities. But my husband –a person very interested in sports, both personally and professionally—has decided that sports has become too much the focus of men’s conversations—to the detriment of other topics and issues. I’m biased since I’m not naturally that into sports, but I do tend to agree that the focus on sports (or fashion/clothes for many of us women) can mean people never get around to other conversations…Not that I see anything wrong with the Superbowl, mind you (whether you watch it for the game, the ads, or the halftime show…)
4.     So…heard any good music lately? The other day, my 8-year old daughter asked me and my husband whether we knew Katy Perry’s song “Last Friday Night.” We weren’t sure so she launched into the lyrics. She got as far as the first line. “There’s a stranger in my bed” (didn’t even need to hear about the pounding in her head) before we cut her off to explain what the problem was…. So I’m trying to find ways to help my kids think through their musical choices (before it gets to be a Big Issue). I’m not a believer in strict censorship (it’s too hard, anyway, if your kids socialize with others and/or get any radio exposure time), but I would like to help them understand what’s wrong with Katy Perry (even if that doesn’t keep her from writing catchy music and them from recognizing it) . Sometimes, too, the ‘badness’ of certain lyrics is kind of lost on very young children...I still remember arguing with my mom (at about the same age) that Olivia Newton John’s Physical was about gym membership (in my defense, the video sort of took this angle—see!
5.      I’m part of a women’s reading group that gets together to read stuff during Lent. We’ve been trying to figure out what to read this year, which has brought me to review and discuss favorite readings (some of which, sadly, won’t work for our group). So far, my top personal recs are: Jacques Philippe’s Interior Freedom and In the School of the Holy Spirit, Fr. Gereon Goldmann’s The Shadow of His Wings, and (on a lighter note) Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. But I’m looking forward to reading others’ choices, too: I Believe in Love, Consoling the Heart of Jesus, and Cizek’s He Leadeth Me.
6.      Do your kids have nervous habits/ tics? One of my kids does—in a big way. I’m trying to get her to stop but I’m afraid it makes her more self-conscious—and more likely to fidget. This same girl also has a hard time controlling her instinctive (usual angry or irritated) reactions. So I’m on the hunt for ways of helping her. So far, we’re doing a lot of the “can you try that again?” routine. My mom had a great spin on this one. She’d make you leave the room and try to say your angry phrase again without laughing. I could never do it (though my brother Dan, could…so I guess it doesn’t work for EVERY kid…)
7.      At the risk of ODing on food topics, I also had to read the WSJ’s Baked Hot Chocolate piece. (
Looks like a great little recipe, but I’ll need to wait until I have some good quality chocolate on hand. In the meantime, I recommend this recipe from a friend, especially if you’re looking (selfishly) to make dessert only for yourself.
5 Minute Chocolate Mug Cake
4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)
a small splash of vanilla extract
1 large coffee mug

Add dry ingredients to mug and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Pour in the milk and oil and mix well. Add in the chocolate chips and vanilla extract and mix again.

Put your mug in the microwave and cook on high for 3 minutes. The cake will rise over the top of the mug but don’t be alarmed!


To get to Hallie's 7 quick takes, click here:


  1. I found your blog from a link on Conversion Diary and am really enjoying it! Regarding #6, my son also has a few tics and has some trouble with explosive angry or frustrated feelings. I've found some Gottman-style emotion-coaching has done wonders for helping him. Most of the time, a simple, "hey, you seem angry/frustrated" diffuses him and he can either think through a solution on his own or move on to something else. I'll be curious to hear if you figure out how to handle the tics, as I share your concerns about drawing them to his attention too much.

    1. I am interested in your Gottman-style experiments--I'll have to try that! I am reading this book --The Whole Brain Child--that I really like and that may be useful in my thinking about this. I will probably post on it sometime soon. As sort of a side note, I noticed that in Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, he mentions of his success 'contrary intention' techniques--asking someone with a tic to do the opposite (i.e. to try stuttering constantly or so forth), but I get nervous that I might exacerbate the tics instead of improving them if I tried that! Stay in touch!

  2. I heard your talk at St. Rita's on Staten Island just a little while ago this evening. I enjoyed it, thanks. I was the one who asked that first question on why Catholicism.

    After getting home I decided to see if your book was up on Amazon, and yes it was, and so now it's on my Kindle. That's the type of book I tend to read in pieces, so I'm sure I'll drift in and about every so often. That's actually easier to do with Kindles now.

    The subject is particularly interesting to me. Though I'm a cradle Catholic, I did have my stretch of time with atheism. It was quite a bit of time actually, perhaps a good ten years of my early adulthood. I'm a mechanical engineer and it was my scientific sense that led me to atheism, but ironically it was the same scientific sense that led me back to theism. I remember a point where the structure and organization of the universe just screamed at me that it could not have been by accident. Such order does not come by chance. You can say at that point I was a sort of Enlightenment Theist. But then about ten years later, and I’m still not sure how this happened, but it was partly through my father’s long two year illness and ultimate death that I did fully embrace Christ and the Church. Perhaps I was sort of encroaching on it prior to that, lukewarm perhaps, but certainly hearing a whisper of a calling. And then suddenly, while driving, actually not far from St. Rita’s (hmm, perhaps St. Rita herself may have had something to do with it, never thought of that before), I felt this incredible need to go before God, to go to a Church. Like one of the stories you mentioned, I felt these shivers go up and down me.

    The rest is not all that noteworthy, but I thought you might want to hear that. I will say I was incredibly lucky to have had Fr. Veras as the pastor at my parish. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard his homilies, but they are incredibly inspiring.

    Sorry if this is off topic to your blog entry. Feel free to delete it if you wish. Thanks again for a nice talk.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts! Don't worry about the off-topic angle--I never delete comments off of my blog (and no one has ever tested me by writing 'bad stuff' so far). It's really interesting to hear your story. Seems like your father's death really brought home the realization of needing something greater in your life--and then, God works in mysterious ways! Fr. Rich is a great priest and his homilies *are* great. And I know he is very happy to have such a great parish, too!
      I think that we live in a culture that profoundly misunderstands religion and man's religious nature. I am reading a great book that relates to this--In the Valley of the Shadow. I highly recommend it (in addition to other spiritual reading--it's not a Christian book--but the author is, I believe, an observant Jew as well as a biblical expert). Feel free to email me, too!

    2. Thank you. Yes I agree we live out of step with the culture at large, even with those that claim to be believers. I looked up that book on Amazon and it does look interesting. I'll pick it up. The author, James Kugel, has his own wikipedia entry and it says he's an Orthodox Jew. Anyway, to add complexity to my story, my wife happens to be jewish, though not very observant.

  3. If you read the Kugel book, I'd really like to know what you think. Would your wife be interested? I think it's an intriguing book--and not one that is aimed exclusively at religious people to my mind.

  4. Hi Rebecca. I guess that question was directed at me. I'm looking through my comments above and I see I didn't mention my wife is Jewish, though not an observant Jew. She feels a sense of obligation toward her religion, but she can't push herself to go forward. Part of her problem is the same problem we have with many cradle Catholics, catechesis. She never learned the fundementals, only the cultural aspects. I was going to get the book as a Kindle book, but if I do that she'll never see it. I'll get a paper copy and mention it to her. I will get back to you with what I think of the book. But I have a long reading this for this year already planned. It may be a while before I get to it.