31 October 2015

Seven Hallowtide Takes

Hallowtide, Hallowmas, whatever you like to call this three day span—Hallowe'en, All Saints, and All Souls—is upon us. While it's not my favorite liturgical season, that title being too close to call between Advent and Holy Week, I also particularly enjoy celebrating Hallowtide: We baked soul cakes (doughnuts) this afternoon to eat for breakfast tomorrow, Little Bear and Kit had fun at the Catholic Homeschoolers' All Saints party yesterday afternoon, and I love kicking off this month focused on the Communion of Saints with a chorus of For All The Saints on Hallowe'en evening, the traditional verses stuffed with references to our role here on earth as the Church Militant: "Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight," "fight as the saints who nobly fought of old," "when the strife is fierce, the warfare long / steals on the ear the distant triumph song," etc. Love that hymn!

And of course, there's the costumes. I love dressing up, always have, and was excited that having kids gave me an "excuse" to wear costumes for Hallowmas again. So far, though, Little Bear seems to have inherited his father's... lack of interest, shall we say, in dressing up. He did not want to wear a costume at the party yesterday, even though all of the other kids were costumed as well. Kit didn't even notice that she was wearing a costume, of course; hopefully she grows up to like them! Dressing as saints for All Saints parties wasn't really something I did until college, but a second reason for costumes in as many days, and a tactile way to have fun learning about saints? Sign me up! 

For the All Saints party, Little Bear was St Juan Diego and Kit was Bl Monica Naisen, a martyr from Japan who was executed in 1629 for hiding a priest from the government's persecution. Little Bear's costume came together more easily than I expected: I cut one of Matt's old t-shirts down for the tilma, printed off a coloring page of Our Lady of Guadalupe, put it between the layers of the shirt, and used the lines as guides for the fabric paint.

Kit's costume was easy, a hand-me-down kimono from one of Matt's coworker's daughters. I had such fun getting their costumes together, and seeing all of the other kids dressed up!

Kit's idea of fun at the party was getting passed around between the other moms and older girls, and eventually falling asleep on someone else's shoulder while I was helping Little Bear decorate cookies in "St Elizabeth's Kitchen." They do such a good job of pulling together this party every year, and all of the kids had fun with games like "St Christopher's relay race," "walking the narrow path" along a balance beam, and rolling pumpkins in "St Isidore's pumpkin patch." The pumpkin-rolling was probably Little Bear's favorite; he wanted to do it all by himself, and got three of his five little pumpkins into the "goal."

I got a text this morning from my sister, a photo of easily a hundred doughnuts laid out in rows on the counter. "Have you made your soulcakes yet?" Little Bear thought that making doughnuts was an excellent idea, of course. Matt was by no means opposed to eating doughnuts, but wanted to know why, so we looked it up.

Modern doughnuts evolved from soul cakes, small sweet cakes that have been given out at Hallowtide for centuries to children and beggars who would go door-to-door singing some variation on this rhyme: "A soul cake, a soul cake, have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake," promising to pray for the repose of the souls of the family's dead in thanks for the cake. From what I read, giving out soul cakes during Hallowtide was still common practice in some places less than 100 years ago. According to one legend, the doughnut shape with the hole in the middle was created to remind those singing for (and eating) soul cakes of eternity: a circle without a beginning or end, reminding us that those who have died are not gone.

So of course, I decided to make some. The only recipe I could find that didn't involve frying them *or* baking in special doughnut pans was this potato doughnut recipe from Taste of Home. I made it by hand instead of using a bread machine, and halved the recipe just in case it didn't work out well, but they came out fine! A little funny looking, which might have been avoidable if I'd used a real doughnut cutter instead of a canning jar lid and a knife, but they taste great. Frosting would have given them a smoother appearance, too, but after tasting one we decided that we liked the flavor and didn't want to drown them in frosting, so while they were still warm I just rubbed a little butter on the tops and sprinkled on a bit of granulated sugar.

Tonight Little Bear went trick-or-treating with some of my siblings, dressed as a baker in his youngest aunt's apron and poofy hat. Several of the houses they usually stop at didn't have anyone home tonight, so the bigger kids were disappointed, but Little Bear was pretty excited that there were people at four of the places they stopped, and they all gave him candy!

It was chilly enough (about 12 degrees F) that they didn't really mind coming back early. It's certainly not over-cold for this time of year—my dad was telling Matt and me about a Hallowe'en he remembers from when I was little that was -30 F!—but this weather still feels cold when it's the first time we've gotten even this low so far this winter. Once we hit -20 for the first time, coming back up above 0 will feel lovely again. Since we were all chilly tonight, though, and since the clocks turn back tonight so bedtime could be a little more flexible, Little Bear got to help Matt lay the fire before going to bed.

A happy very-nearly-All Saints Day to you! For more quick takes, head on over to This Ain't The Lyceum.

29 October 2015

Luke 3

Or, Advent with St John the Baptist.

Wreaths and calendars, Jesse trees and Philip's Fast; as parents, preparing for Advent can involve a dizzying whirl of ideas and worries about how to "do it right" so that our kids will understand the purpose of the season. And the first Sunday of Advent is only a month away, so lots of people's very different recommendations and perspectives have been tumbling around my mind lately! But reading this week's chapter, St John the Baptist also had something to say about how to prepare for Christ's coming: 

10 And the people asked him, saying: What then shall we do?

11 And he answering, said to them: He that hath two coats, let him give to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do in like manner.

12 And the publicans also came to be baptized, and said to him: Master, what shall we do?

13 But he said to them: Do nothing more than that which is appointed you.

14 And the soldiers also asked him, saying: And what shall we do? And he said to them: Do violence to no man; neither calumniate any man; and be content with your pay.

Those aren't all the most specific of instructions unless you're a soldier or a tax collector, but they contain some good general guidelines for all of us: be content with what we have, share our abundance with those who are in need, and live our particular vocations as well and with as much regard for others as we can. There are a lot of ways to do those things, and reading this passage helped me remember that even among several families celebrating Advent, the specifics of "doing it right" can look different. I need to make sure our observance of Advent includes all of John the Baptist's ways to prepare for Christ's coming—and the "sharing with others" is something in particular that I want to think more about how we can work on it this year—but maybe I can stop worrying as much about whether we're doing everything exactly the same as someone else.

23 October 2015

Seven Quick Takes

Little Bear's current favorite game is picking a letter and asking us to help think of words that start with that letter. This morning it was M, and he personally contributed several abstract words including Memory, Make, and Melancholy. Where did he even learn the word melancholy?

For the feast of Pope St John Paul II yesterday, a friend and I made padahae (Ukrainian pierogi), some filled with mashed potatoes and some with sauerkraut. Delicious! I would have served them with Polska kielbasa if I'd had any, but chicken sausage worked just as well. One of these times, I'm going to plan ahead enough to have some ground caribou browning on the stove as I'm rolling out the dough, so we can make meat-filled padahae; Little Bear does not really like potatoes or sauerkraut, and while he did eat his potato padahae without being told last night, I know that he would enjoy meat more. 

Kit had her 4 month well-child checkup on Tuesday, and is doing fine. She's such a happy girl, smiling and babbling at everyone! I was much happier with this pediatrician than we one we saw when she was 2 months; this doctor noted that she was a little above the 75th percentile in weight again, but said that there was nothing wrong with that, she's just a big, healthy breastfed baby. Which I knew, but it's still nice to hear it from the pediatrician. We were looking forward to seeing just how big Kit had gotten, and I had to laugh when I realized she's already half as big as her 3 year old brother! Little Bear started out growing very quickly too, and slowed down considerably in his second six months. We will have to wait and see what Kit does.

It has been nearly a month since that several-day power outage, but still, every single time I hear the fridge kick on, there's a little millisecond of "thank you, Lord, that the power is working!" It took losing electricity for me to realize how much we rely on it, and taking the things that are always around us for granted is definitely normal, but goodness, there are a lot of things that I don't want to have to lose in order to become consciously grateful for them! It's been a good reminder: I'm trying to be more intentionally grateful for each member of our family, the material goods and graces we've been given... actually thinking about what I'm saying instead of the rattling off the same list of "thank-you-for"s at prayer time each night.

Since he worked all last Sunday and they aren't supposed to take overtime thanks to budget cuts, Matt theoretically got a three-day weekend this weekend. While he and Little Bear were out running errands, though, he was called in to the office to help fix a problem. Little Bear got to have fun at the office for a while, but Matt eventually had to run Little Bear home and go back in by himself.

We've hardly seen each other recently: he was gone half the week for work, and the night after he got home from that he was out at a parish council meeting until after the kids and I were all in bed; last night he was busy until late again, working through some problems building a computer with a friend; and now today Kit and I were in town for a meeting in the morning, and Matt headed out shortly after we got home. Hopefully soon things will calm down enough for us to actually have some time together.

Supper has been a (pseudo-)international affair this week:

Quesadillas and salsa on Sunday.
From-scratch chicken noodle soup on Monday.
(My brother's birthday on Tuesday)
Chicken-vegetable stir fry over rice on Wednesday.
Sausage, padahae, and cucumbers on Thursday.
Mujaddara and hummus with raw veggies today.
Caribou stroganoff with a Russian cucumber salad is the plan for tomorrow.

Once I had the padahae and mujaddara on the menu everything else sort of fell into the "theme," although some of them were definitely bigger stretches than others. It was fun, though!

Our hostess, Kelly of This Ain't The Lyceum, has been asking questions each week this month, which I have not at all been keeping up with because I've been so bad about blogging at all lately. Today's is What was your most popular Quick Takes? I looked mine up, and it's a pretty ordinary slice of life from a year and a half ago: Writing, Sleep, Productivity, and a Smashing Afternoon. It's so hard to believe that not so long ago, Little Bear was so much smaller!

Drop by today's linkup, and check out some other folks' most popular Seven Quick Takes!

21 October 2015

Luke 2

I know I'm really late with this... I've been flying solo while Matt was traveling for work, and while he's back in town today, I won't see him until late tonight. Keeping the house from falling apart, everyone fed and clothed and somewhat well-behaved, comforting the sad baby who got vaccines yesterday... There's no such thing as spare time or mental energy. But before we find ourselves even further into the week and I manage to talk myself into skipping this chapter entirely because I'm "too late," I'd better get something down on paper.

Luke 2 contains pretty much the whole of Jesus' childhood: the nativity, the presentation, the finding in the temple. It seemed, as I was reading, that there was a significant connection just begging to be made between that and the canonizations of Sts Louis and Zelie Martin this past Sunday... but I haven't been able to quite figure that connection out. 

"In His wisdom, God wanted it this way to remind us that the world is not our true home." – St Zelie Martin

How often Mary and Joseph must have been reminded of that! Scripture doesn't really tell us anything about Jesus as a child, apart from his being subject to his parents and advancing "in wisdom, and age, and grace before God and men." What a weighty responsibility Mary and Joseph were given, raising and teaching him. Little Bear and I were reading in his Pre-K religion book today about Jesus growing and learning just like him, but never doing anything wrong or sinful. What was it like, being His parents?

It's our task, as parents, to do everything we can to bring our children to heaven, to raise saints. Sts Louis and Zelie Martin succeeded. I pray that we will; some days, that sounds like a frighteningly difficult-to-impossible job. But thinking about what was asked of Mary and Joseph, raising and teaching the Son of God, being the ones whom He obeyed as a child... wow. Humanly, that's a truly impossible task, but they weren't asked to do it on their own human strength; God gave them the graces they needed, just as He makes available to us the graces we need for the responsibilities He's entrusted to us.

15 October 2015


Chicken stock bubbling away in the slow cooker, pints of applesauce already out of the canner and sealed, a crackling fire in the fireplace, all by 8:30 this morning. Such a pleasant way to start the day! The slow cooker has been getting a workout: my applesauce cooked in the slow cooker all yesterday afternoon, and last night I ran it through the food mill into a new pot so that I could put all of the non-meat parts of our roast chicken from supper into the slow cooker. The applesauce went into the fridge to keep until I had time to reheat and can it this morning, and the chicken oddments got covered with water and a splash of apple cider vinegar and set to cook on Low for 24 hours. So much good food, and so easy to make, thanks to the slow cooker!

I've been elbow-deep in apples these last two days. Tuesday evening I picked up a 20 lb box of Jonagolds from the co-op, and as of tonight there are only 16 apples left in the bottom of the box. One batch of applesauce is canned, another is prepped for the slow cooker—washed, diced, tossed with spices and frozen so I can put it into the crockpot midwinter and make the house smell wonderful again.

Little Bear and I also packed away two bags of measured out apples and spices for kuchens, and one for a pie. He was a huge help entertaining Kit while I peeled and cut apples! I'm going to try to save the remaining apples for eating raw; I know Little Bear and I will happily go through them before I have to worry about them going bad. Putting away one more kuchen worth of fruit is tempting, though; it's very possibly my favorite dessert.

Also, food mills. Why did I think you needed an immersion blender or glass-pitchered blender to purée hot foods? I borrowed my mother's food mill for the applesauce, a vintage Foley handed down from an elderly friend's kitchen, and loved it! The applesauce came out so beautifully smooth, and it was so easy to use. Little Bear had so much fun taking a turn cranking the "apple smusher." I couldn't help but go look at hand mills online, and was so disappointed to see that modern Foley food mills don't seem to be of comparable quality, and many modern brands and models are partly plastic instead of solid, heavy-duty metal. Being able to cook without electricity really appeals to me, but I'll wait until I happen across a good-quality older model at an antique shop or something.

Having a couple of kitchen-centric days has been wonderful; I definitely enjoy homemakery pursuits. It's about time to step out of the kitchen and try to tackle some other areas of my to-do list, though; hopefully I'll be able to pull out my sewing machine and take care of a couple of languishing projects this weekend.

12 October 2015

Luke 1

A week ago, my brother emailed all of our adult siblings plus our parents suggesting a long-distance Bible study of sorts, everyone reading one chapter of Luke a week and sharing reflections on it. Actually "suggesting" isn't exactly the right word, since he started off with a (joking) warning: "if you read any further than this line, refusal/backing out is not an option." He had a good point; reading Scripture is important, and it's easy to let it slip because we get busy. My siblings all jumped on board right away, and they and my mom shared reflections this week on the first chapter of Luke that were all well thought out bits of exegesis, referring back to different passages of Scripture and/or other spiritual or literary sources. 

And I kind of felt like Martha looking at Mary, reading their emails. Reading I can do, in little bits here and there, but I have little kids; I don't exactly have free stretches of time to ignore the kids and really reflect on what I've read. Somebody needs something of me pretty much from when I wake up until as I'm falling asleep, and I'm just not capable at this stage of even focusing enough attention to understand everything my siblings got out of the text, let alone come up with something worth contributing. And I'm not upset about that—God put me in a different state of life right now, and I'm happy where He has me—but it seems like there's not any point in my trying to participate, if we're on such different levels. I know they're my family and they'd much rather I join in regardless, but I feel badly bringing a box of store-brand sandwich cookies to a party where they've each baked something amazing from scratch, you know?

But while I was sitting at the end of Little Bear's bed last night, praying the joyful mysteries of the rosary to put him back to sleep at 2 am, I was thinking about the maternities of Mary and Elizabeth. And I decided that I should keep up with my family's chapter-a-week reading, try to read my siblings' reflections, and instead of diluting their erudite conversation with my less important musings, I'll post them here on Mondays if I can.

With that very long introduction, here is what stuck with me from Luke chapter 1:

• Zechariah was notified of Elizabeth's impending pregnancy, but was Elizabeth? Sarah got to overhear the difficult-to-believe promise of a son made to Abraham, but Elizabeth wasn't present when Gabriel visited Zechariah. Maybe her husband's sudden muteness was all the notice Elizabeth received. That's rather a large responsibility (and difficult, painful nine months) to drop on an elderly woman without warning.

• Elizabeth sees her pregnancy, as hard as it has to have been, as a gift from God "to take away my reproach among men." She is well past childbearing age; by this point it's been many years since she's had any reason to hope to ever have children. But she gratefully welcomes this new life, this colossal upending of life as she knew it, as a genuinely good thing, not as a burden to try and find something good about.

• Many translations I've heard say that Elizabeth "cried out in a loud voice, 'Blessed art thou..'" But the Vulgate says "cried out in a loud voice, and said, 'Blessed art thou...'" It could certainly mean the same thing, but I've read somewhere (years ago, I don't know where) that it was thought that the Visitation was the *first* time Elizabeth felt St John the Baptist move, and her "crying out in a loud voice" was a shout of joy before her greeting to Mary; being so far along and not yet having felt the baby move would have been so worrying.

• What all did Mary's freedom from the effects of Original Sin except her from? She spent her first trimester helping Elizabeth, so did she not have morning/evening/all-day sickness? Or did they in those days have a cure for morning sickness that allowed her to feel up to traveling across the country and helping out, that was too commonplace (and unimportant/unrelated) to bother writing down?

Nothing profound; hopefully nothing heretical. Want to read along too? I'll try to have my reflections up on each successive chapter of Luke's Gospel by the end of each Monday until we finish it, and I would love to hear your thoughts as well.

11 October 2015


"You're in my way!"
"That's not very polite."
"...May I be in your way, please?"

Little Bear has been keeping me on my toes lately. It seems like every time I'm feeding the baby or working in the kitchen (so, pretty much all the time), he sees it as an invitation to come up with awesome ideas of fun things to do... like setting up the fireplace screen as a target and trying to knock it over with ceramic ramekins. Or stacking the rocking horse on top of diaper boxes to reach something up high. I just can't... How does he even come up with these ideas?

And yet... and yet. There are plenty of frustrating moments, what-are-you-doing moments, don't-you-dare-poke-the-sleeping-baby sort of moments, but overall, having two kids has been so great.

I was standing in line to have some fleece cut at the fabric store yesterday with Kit while Little Bear and Daddy checked out a new sporting goods store, and several of the women cutting fabric and standing in line had such negative things to say: you're lucky you only have the one; they only get worse as they get bigger and become siblings; you're probably not getting any sleep, are you? oh, she sleeps? don't have any more, you won't get another perfect one!

I was shocked, rather insulted on my children's behalf, but mostly saddened; how wounded a person must have to be, to look at a beautiful baby girl and her happy mother, and say such things. How broken our society is, when none of those women seemed to know how to respond to my smile and "Oh, siblings are wonderful! Her big brother is such a help, and he loves playing with her." What a terrible blindness, this inability to see children as blessings to love instead of burdens to complain about.

Matt was out for about an hour this afternoon, and as a treat (and so Kit could try to go to sleep), I let Little Bear watch an episode of our favorite cooking show. Kit nursed, dozed, nursed while he watched, totally ignoring the TV, but as soon as the garage door began opening her head popped up and she turned to look at the door, breaking into a smile as soon as Daddy came in. She has already learned that that sound means Daddy is home! For the next five minutes, she smiled and stuck her tongue out at him, babbling happily.

Forming the burgers for supper tonight, I called Little Bear into the kitchen to entertain Kit while my hands were messy. He ran in with a blanket, and started playing the game they developed together this week. Together, and she's not yet four months; I was surprised when I realized that she was actively playing along, but she is: he shakes out the blanket in her direction a couple of times, covers her with it ("only up to her nose," I remind him), and she kicks it off, giggling. Each time the blanket hits the floor he pretends to be surprised and goes to pick it up again, and each time she smiles and laughs, waving her arms and kicking her legs as she watches his every move.

I love watching them play together—it's so different than when Little Bear was a baby, and I was the only one he had to play with all day. And as Kit gets bigger, becomes mobile, eventually learns to use words, I know that some things will be more difficult, but I can't help looking forward to the coming weeks, months, years and seeing them learning and growing and playing together. I don't know that there's any sound more beautiful than little ones laughing together; the two of them bring such joy into our life!

04 October 2015

Mostaccioli for St Francis of Assisi

October 4 is the feast of St Francis of Assisi, namesake of Pope Francis and probably one of the most popular saints even among those who aren't Catholic. He fasted strictly, so a big meal seemed out of place for his feast day, but I did want to do something special. I found several versions of a sweet known to have been St Francis' favorite, honey almond cakes called "mostaccioli." Matt and I were a little confused; isn't mostaccioli a kind of pasta? These definitely aren't pasta, but they are delicious and simple to make.


1/2 lb blanched almonds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup honey
1 egg white
1/2 cup of flour (approx.)

Coarsely grind almonds in a food processor. Add cinnamon, honey, and egg white, and pulse together. Slowly add flour to make a thick paste. Knead together until stiff but smooth. Roll out to 1/4" thick and cut into diamond shapes, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches long. Lay diamonds on a greased baking sheet and let rest an hour and a half, then bake at 250 degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes, until the bottom edges are just turning golden. Leave on the pan for a couple of minutes to set, then remove to wire racks to cool.

I cut my diamonds on the small side, and it made about 24. Using whole wheat flour makes them more authentic to St. Francis' day,* but the recipe would work fine with all-purpose flour. The mostaccioli had a lovely, delicate flavor, and the ground almonds gave them a great texture. I'll have to make these again next year. And the food processor did most of the work! If you don't have a food processor (or a blender, which would work too), you could definitely chop the almonds finely by hand, and then mix everything together in a bowl.

*A brief lesson on flour, because I couldn't very well make that claim without going and researching it tonight: Ground wheat flour naturally contains all three parts of a grain of wheat: bran, germ, and endosperm. The bran contains fiber, some of the B vitamins, and iron; the germ contains protein, vitamin E, most of the B vitamins, antioxidants, and omega-3s; the endosperm contains carbohydrates and trace amounts of protein, vitamins, and minerals. The endosperm is white; the bran and germ are brown or brownish.

Sifting flour to make white flour by removing the bran and germ has been done since the Middle Ages, but only by the wealthy who could afford to waste them. (Removing the bran and germ meant that the wheat yielded less flour, plus it took longer to produce.) Because this sifted flour still contained the beta carotene-rich oil released from the wheat germ in the grinding process, the "white" flour was slightly yellowish. The advent of modern roller mills at the end of the 19th century, replacing mills with grinding stones, allowed millers to strip the bran and germ from the wheat before grinding the endosperm, thus producing truly white flour.

Over the course of the 20th century, flour producers began enriching their white flour, adding in vitamins to replace some of those they were removing with the germ. In the U.S., enriched flour contains added iron and the B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid, and sometimes calcium. White flour can be found either bleached or unbleached in the U.S.; the brighter white of bleached flour is most often achieved by treating the flour with benzoyl peroxide, chlorine gas, or both.

White whole wheat flour is not a combination of white and whole wheat; it is ground from white spring wheat rather than the more typical hard red wheat, and has a lighter color and milder flavor more closely resembling that of refined white flour while still possessing its full bran and germ. (The grains I grind to bake with are white spring wheat and spelt, an ancient cousin of wheat.)

And that was not exactly brief! But hopefully you learned something useful or interesting; I really enjoy learning more about historical and modern food production.

01 October 2015

Sun and light

Today is gloriously sunny, with clear blue skies and no more snow expected until tomorrow morning. I love how the sun turns the snow-covered branches pink when it's at just the right angle on its way over the horizon. That's one nice thing about the sun coming up later and later every morning: I get to see the sunrise every day! 

Speaking of cheerful things, the power stayed on all night! No oatmeal cooking in the fireplace this morning. It's stayed on long enough this time that we're optimistic that it's on for good. I appreciated seeing that we did fine without power, but it's pretty nice to be able to turn on the bathroom light or open the refrigerator. And I'm grateful to be able to finally make stock out of Tuesday's chicken, which had been keeping cold outside in the slow cooker; the house smells warm and wonderful with that cooking away this morning.

A pleasant end to the first adventure of the winter; we're supposed to have slightly warmer weather and rain by Friday afternoon and Saturday, so I'd better make sure Little Bear gets plenty of time out in the snow today!