A few months ago someone mentioned the old St. Blog’s Parish website (on Facebook) which piqued my curiosity. I hadn’t visited in years so I started clicking through the link collection. Most of the links didn’t go anywhere. Of the few that still went to functioning sites, most had been abandoned between 2010 and 2014. Maybe 5% were still active. Today, I went back and looked again and all of the blog data has been removed, leaving an empty shell of the once lively “parish”. Fortunately, the Catholic Blog directory is still online but has a lot of dead links. I mention a lot of blogs below and would link to them but most of them no longer exist.
An attempt at reviving a Catholic community of bloggers called the Catholic Bloggers Network started off with some interest but the activity there has also fallen away.
Looking back at my own blog, which had always been a mashup of Aquinas and More Catholic Goods and family posts, I quit writing personal posts around 2011 and focused almost exclusively on posts related to the business and Catholic feasts and traditions.
What happened? I think two things indirectly lead to the death of blogging. First, the discontinuation of easy-to-use blog aggregators. Feedburner had been the standard for years and it eventually was purchased by Google which carried it for several years alongside the Google Reader product. API service was cut off for Feedburner in 2012 and then Google shut down Google Reader in 2013. Feedburner still exists as abandoned software but hasn’t been updated in years. Feedly has picked up some of the loss over the years but I think that the ease of using the first two products and their discontinuation led to a decrease in blogging as bloggers found it harder to let people know about new posts since the two largest aggregating platforms were killed off within a year of each other.
Second, the rise of social media sites such as Facebook coupled with the rise of smartphone use. Facebook and Twitter provided easy-to-use platforms to share short-form content and make quick responses to posts while discouraging lengthy articles and real conversation. Is it possible to do these things on Facebook? Sure, but the format is not meant for that. You get a relatively small amount of real estate to view each post unless you open it in a separate window and it still is in a gutter format. Comments are typically short and trolling is ubiquitous. If you do write a post or comment, the alert system seems to quit alerting you to updates after a couple of dozen replies are made on the post so you can’t really keep up. You also have to click “more” a bunch of times to actually see a whole discussion thread (which really isn’t threaded beyond one level deep).
Further, smart phones are not a good tool for reading long-form content. Formatting gets messed up. Scrolling for pages of screens is tedious and the amount of an article you can actually see is very small. That’s why Kindles and Nooks exist for reading books.
So what have we lost with the death of blogging?
The writing voice of people who may never have shared their lives in another format. Before “Mommy blogs” turned into marketing platforms and people just shared their lives and faith journeys, there was a lot of inspired content that was written without any interest in selling a product or becoming an influencer. Several good Catholic books came out of this time period and launched the CatholicMom.com imprint for Ave Maria Press. Cynics will argue that these blogs were filtered to show the good side of things. For some, that may have been true, but compared to the perfection drive on Instagram and current blogs that are used for marketing, most previous blogs look downright honest.
Thoughtful opinion pieces written by regular people instead of a quick comment about some other source’s article. There used to be several Catholic bloggers who weren’t journalists or paid for their work but regularly posted thoughtful pieces on current events. You can still find good commentary at places like Catholic Stand, Standing on My Head, First Things, and The Catholic Thing but the number of writers who aren’t associated with a group publication or magazine has dwindled away to a small list.
A community of Catholics on-line. Thanks to blog aggregators, web rings, the Catholic Blog Carnival, and directories like St. Blog’s Parish, Catholics had a variety of ways to find other Catholics and topics of interest. There really isn’t a way to do that anymore. Facebook groups are a poor replacement for discussion forums and a directory of blogs. There also was a sense of community among Catholic bloggers. St. Blog’s kept an “in memorium” list for bloggers who had passed and bloggers would share calls for help when someone needed it. Yes, you can post fundraisers and posts about someone’s passing on Facebook but the chances of it being seen, thanks to the Facebook algorithm, are low and see the next reason below.
Permanence. Social media is not meant to be permanent. Yes, you can go back and look at your activity feed and dig through someone else’s, but the ability to find things by category, date or even search, is severely limited on Facebook and Twitter. As an example, I know that I saw a post by a former Catholic blogger on Facebook within the past few weeks about St. Blog’s, but I am unable to find it anymore. I still get comments on blog posts I wrote a decade ago. No one is going to be commenting on a Facebook post more than a day after it was written, let alone years later.
Personality. Social Media is the Model-T of writing. The news feed may be full of different pictures but all the text looks the same. You can’t fill a post with cool pictures you took because they are either a carousel of images or a single image that fills the post and requires people to click “more” if they want to read the rest. Facebook groups, personal pages and corporate pages all look pretty much the same. You can change your header image but you are stuck with the blue platform layout.
Relationships with people you would never meet in real life. Thanks to blogs, many of us got to know people in a more substantial way than we will ever get to on Facebook. Remember House Unseen, Life Unscripted? Dwija is my wife’s sister-in-law and I would never have gotten to know her or her family, because of the distance, if she hadn’t been blogging. Or how about Terry Nelson’s Abbey Road blog? Terry has blogged for years about his faith journey and, a rarity these days, is still blogging. Or Charlotte’s projects at Waltzing Matilda? Her feast day creations were amazing! Or Amy Welborn’s heartbreaking loss of her husband and family travels following that tragedy? These blog and many others were inspirations to a lot of people.
A record of personal experiences for future generations. This may sound grandiose, but the written record of the past is what gets passed down to tell how things were in the mundane world of daily life. Pictures are great and we certainly take a lot of them these days, but pictures don’t record people’s thoughts or what led up to a photograph or was going on while it was being taken. It is in diaries and letters that we get the sense of the past as people actually lived it. You can read about battles, plagues, and other historic events in history books but you won’t find out about how your ancestors dealt with the Spanish Flu or what it was like being on the front lines at Shilo in a history book. It’s that written record that gives you personal contact with the past that can’t be equaled. Of course, blogs aren’t physical objects like letters, but at least they are a written record. I fear that social media has destroyed future generations’ ability to look back and see what we really thought of things at the beginning of the 21st century. I worry what they will think of us if our primary personal record is social media posts.
Okay, so what is my point here? I’ve decided to start family blogging again. I’m also committing to sending written letters to people on a somewhat regular basis. I would encourage you to do the same. Leave a record of your thoughts and experiences that is more permanent than a Facebook post. Writing helps to work out thoughts and arguments in a coherent way and maybe others will be interested in what you write as well.
And now, as any good blogger knows, asking for input is the way to get more blog traffic, or, at least it was a decade ago. What are your thoughts on Catholic blogging? What Catholic blogs do you still read?
Around the Table with the Catholic Foodie – Middle Eastern Cuisine
Jeff’s book is a mouth-watering journey through both his pilgrimage and some of the cultural food he loves. The photos are fantastic (we borrowed a few for this post) and the recipes are just begging you to try them. I’ve heard that there are plans to turn this into a series.
The Catholic Drinkie’s Guide to Home Brewed Evangelism
Sarah’s book focuses more on spirits than cuisine. Reading her book is like sitting down in pub with a bunch friends with a quality beer while discussing life and faith. Be prepared for a history of alcohol use in the Bible and beyond, recommendations on the best beers, how to brew your own, even in an apartment and how to share Catholicism with others without them running for the door.
Drinking with the Saints – The Sinner’s Guide to a Holy Happy Hour
The majority of the book is a calendar of saints and feasts along with drink recipes that will carry you through the entire year, even Lent! While not as personable as the first two, this could easily be a book to regularly pull off the shelf “just to see what we can try with dinner”.
Grace Before Meals – Recipes and Inspirations for Family Meals and Family Life
Father Leo wrote his book to bring families closer together at meal time. The book is divided into seasonal sections with prayers and questions (along with great recipes) for families to use at meal time. Yes, this is a cook book but it’s also a fun way to share family meals again if you have gotten out of the habit.
Before there was a revival in Catholic cooking books among younger Catholics and even before there was a wave of monastery cookbooks, there was A Continual Feast.
A Continual Feast – A Cookbook to Celebrate the Joys of Family and Faith Throughout the Christian Year
In a way, A Continual Feast could be seen as a Catholic Joy of Cooking. Almost 300 recipes for every season of the year grace it’s pages along with descriptions of Catholic customs and traditions. While A Continual Feast isn’t a slick “foodie” cookbook with Pinterest-quality pictures of food you will never get to look the same way, it is a fabulous cookbook to have on your counter and you will use it again and again throughout the years.
On Monday our whole family went to Costco. We have nine kids under the age of twelve so there is almost a 100% chance that someone we don’t know will make a comment.
We stopped for lunch at the Costco food court and ordered pizza (about the best you can buy). Sitting at the table behind us was an elderly man and his daughter. He asked if all of the kids were ours and said that we didn’t have his grandparents beat.
His grandparents had twenty two children and lost four from disease. His parents had thirteen children and lost three to diphtheria. His dad was born in 1901 and only completed third grade.
This man had spent four years in the air force and had grown up during the depression with his nine siblings. He said that people today have no idea how tough things used to be. He then said that he had only had one child – he didn’t think he was educated enough to have any more. He also said that his brother had only had one child. After mentioning his father’s third grade education, thirteen children and growing up in the depression I was amazed at the contradictions in this man’s life that he couldn’t even see.
The problem is that his attitude about having children, in times far better than his ancestors, is the attitude of despair. Unfortunately, this attitude is shared by a majority of the population that doesn’t see the future as anything to bring life into. It’s generational suicide that only the hope in something beyond ourselves can cure.
Tucson, Arizona. Land of saguaro cactus, red desert and the yearly gathering of the Gastellum clan for Christmas.
For as far back as I can remember, we would make the annual fourteen hour drive from Colorado to Arizona to spend one or two weeks with family in a continuous celebration that centered on the Faith, family and food.
But before we made the trip our family made its own Christmas cards. My Dad’s an artist and my Mom does beautiful calligraphy so we always had perfect cards to send out. Even farther back before Christmas my Mom would get each of us a Christmas ornament that had something to do with an event during the past year. One year I got a brass skier because I went skiing for the first time. Another year I got an ornament of Pikes Peak because I completed the half marathon ascent that summer. Ouch!
My Mom’s parents had lived in the same house ever since I could remember Christmas and later my aunt and uncle moved into the house three doors down. Several other aunts, uncles and various greats also lived in Tucson. I was even blessed with knowing my Great Grandmother. You know, the lady who was quick enough to catch mice by the tail?
There was always an Advent wreath on the dining room table and Christmas stockings always made the trip with us. For some reason, the felt Advent calendar that my mom made with the snap-on ornaments for each day almost never made the trip so we only got about two weeks completed and then had to add everything else after Christmas.
My mom collects Nativity sets and I think she got that from her mom. There were always a variety of Nativity sets around the house, missing baby Jesus, of course until Christmas day. Unfortunately, most sets are now made in China so our store isn’t able to offer a large selection of them.
On Christmas Eve we always had a traditional Mexican dinner with homemade tamales, re-fried beans, calabasitas and the best tortillas anywhere. We would then all gather in the spare room and with a roaring fire in the fireplace and the blinds strategically cracked open, my grandfather would read The Night Before Christmas from a huge coloring book that all of us cousins had taken a hand at coloring. Just like clockwork every year Santa would be on the roof, shout down the chimney and flash by the window before vanishing across the golf course behind their house. We would then all go back in to the living room and find our stockings full. My poor Uncle Steve, and some years Uncle John, frequently missed this momentous event. It’s amazing how things always came up right at that time.
Some years we would go down to the Tumacacori Mission to sing carols and see the luminarias lining the church and walls at night. My family has a long association with the Mission. My grandparents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary there and they met at the Catholic church just up the road in Tubac. One of my great-(great?)-aunts was scalped by Indians while her siblings hid in the mission bell tower. She survived.
When we were all younger and had the energy we would then go to Midnight Mass and then come home and open presents. I don’t know how my grandparents did it.
Christmas day was the time to go visit Uncle Mannie and Aunt Armida. It was also the first place that I got bragging rights for eating exotic food. Every Christmas Aunt Armida made Menudo and I loved it. Christmas dinner was a traditional turkey affair.
During our time in Tucson we had three typical site seeing visits to make. The first, and most regular, was a trip to the Sonoran Desert Museum. My Grandfather had been a park ranger most of his life and was a supporter of the museum. My favorite exhibits were always the prairie dog town and the geological exhibit with the earthquake detectors and the path through the “cave”.
The second visit was a guy trip to some dive for authentic Mexican food. I don’t remember the names of any of the places we went but you probably won’t find them in tourist books.
Some years we would make a trip to the Pima Air Museum or have a picnic at the Saguoro National Park. Yes, a picnic in December. Except for the one year it snowed and we had a snowball fight instead.
Okay, now it’s your turn. What fond memories do you have of Christmas?
Growing up, we regularly took trips to Craig to visit my grandparents and other relatives. Craig is a small, sleepy town in northwestern Colorado known, if at all, for mining and ranching. My great grandfather died of black lung from mining. My grandfather worked in the mines for many years and raised my father and siblings in Mt. Harris, a mining town, before the mines gave out and the town was sold off.
My grandfather bought several of the houses in Mt. Harris and, board by board, he and his family dismantled the homes and carted them to Craig where they were rebuilt into a new home with an attached apartment. My Dad’s job was to straighten the nails so they could be reused at the new location.
During my childhood we spent many Easters and other occasions at my grandparent’s home. Grandma was a wonderful cook and seamstress. She could sew dresses without patterns and no one ever turned down one of her pies.
Down three stairs from the living room with the wood stove, which I never remember ever being used, out the back door, through the yard, out the chain link gate and across the alley lived my Aunt Louise. Aunt Louise was all smile and glasses and had always been “old” in my grade school eyes. Her house was a “don’t touch” house with lots of glass objects and only one toy – a board game like chess with medieval figures that she kept in a compartment of her very heavy coffee table. She also had a most amazing kitchen gadget – a waffle iron so old that it had a woven fabric cord cover! I’m sure that it was older than me and probably is still working.
Aunt Louise’s back yard was the scene of regular picnics and cookouts. She had an outdoor grill built into a rock wall with a chimney topping it off. I am pretty sure that we weren’t supposed to climb on it but we did anyway. Her backyard was also home to a legendary garden that produced all kinds of wonderful vegetables for canning and her crab apple tree was the source of countless jars of jelly. When we would go choke cherry picking or up to Elkhead for fishing and cookouts Aunt Louise would sometimes come along.
When Paula and I were married fourteen years ago Aunt Louise couldn’t make it to the wedding but in spite of severe arthritis, made us this beautiful quilt. I don’t know anything about quilting except that there is a quilt shop around the corner from our store. Still, I can tell that a lot of love and time went into making it. It has kept us warm in the winter, covered several children’s beds and has occasionally done duty as a tent on living room camping expeditions.
Aunt Louise died peacefully today at 5pm. I think she was almost 96. She left us with many fond memories of Craig, her smiling hospitality and a quilt that will continue to warm us with her love for many years to come. We miss you Aunt Louise. Requiescat in pace.