Posted in musings

struggling with autumn

Autumn used to be my favorite season. It was the slow build towards Christmas – Halloween, my birthday, Thanksgiving, and the final crescendo of Advent, gradually growing excitement and joy with each passing day. It was the flash of defiant color flaming bright against the shortening days and cooling nights. It was the sharp relief of heat breaking like a sudden smile on a stern face. It was the beginning of a new school year with new classes and things to learn and a definite schedule after the chaotic fun of summer. It was apples ripening and pumpkins to be carved and pot pies pulled steaming from the oven. It was russet and gold and amber and deep brown turning all the world the warm rich colors of wooden bookshelves and leather-bound books – nature and library in one.

And I started out this autumn so well, taking the kids up north to try to see the changing leaves, going to local fall festivals, painting with the warm colors of fall, carving pumpkins – and then it all fell apart, in the fading glow of Halloween, as the realities of four birthdays and Thanksgiving and Advent and Christmas coming all hit me. If autumn has always been for me the season of growing anticipation of coming joy, than this year it feels like the season of growing anxiety about coming struggles. I hate that the same beautiful things I once loved, that have always been so special to me, are now mocking me for my inability to fully enjoy and live in them like I used to. I want to make beautiful traditions for my family, to give them the love of all the seasons of the year that I have always had (for all things are beautiful in their own way, or have the potential to be redeemed into beauty), and all I can feel is shame at my inability to do so – or to even see that beauty myself, anymore.

I just can’t wait for it to be over, this year. For the dead and barren branches of winter to take over. For the lights and colors and gifts and effluence of friends and family to be gone, and in the cold January air to be able to take up the tasks of everyday life again without the expectations of the holidays weighing on my shoulders. Beauty is too high a standard to live by, when I’m the one who has to create it in my home. Like a flame-tinged leaf myself, I’m swaying in the strain of the autumn wind and soon I must break and fall – only I can’t let myself and I have to hold on until the wind passes and the still of the winter brings peace.

Posted in family life, recipes

St. Nicholas Day (and a recipe for cookies!)

Due to St. Nicholas Day creeping up on me unawares in the middle of the week, I did not remind my boys to set out their shoes; due to the boys being only 3 and 4, they fortunately did not remember that small mysterious gifts should have appeared overnight. I had aspirations of making small St. Nicholas dolls (inspired by Waldorf pocket dolls) and placing candy canes in their hands like staffs… maybe they could tow along some chocolate coins as well…

However, I did introduce them to the story of St. Nicholas (no books, just me – again, I was woefully unprepared), and we baked speculaas cookies to celebrate!

I found a recipe on the King Arthur Flour website that didn’t call for too many obscure ingredients, stopped to buy sugar on my way home from work, and began mixing up the dough with the kids. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my almonds anywhere to make almond meal… so we improvised by cracking 1/2 cup worth of fresh hazelnuts we had lingering around aimlessly, and grinding them up in the food processor with a couple tablespoons of flour to absorb any oils. We also doubled all the spices because more is better, for spices at any rate, in my opinion.

Apparently it is also true in the boys’ opinion, as I couldn’t get them to stop eating the cookie dough, and I can’t get them to stop eating the cookies now!

But really, they had so much fun mixing, tasting, rolling, tasting, cutting, tasting, and so on 🙂 And the cookies turned out quite well! Crunchy, spicy, sweet, and addictive, with nubbly texture from the larger hazelnut crumbs – I’ll be adding this tradition to our annual list, and hopefully adding to it in years to come (in addition to books and gifts, I’d love to celebrate the day by being like St. Nicholas and anonymously blessing a family in need – I’m sure there is a good way to coordinate the timing of that with the holiday, and I know there are many opportunities to do so).

And now for the recipe itself!


St. Nicholas Day Speculaas Cookies

Slightly altered from King Arthur Flour’s Spiced Star Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts (more traditionally, ground almonds or almond flour)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use unbleached)
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk

Directions

  1. If using whole nuts, grind them in a food processor with 2-4 tablespoons of the all-purpose flour
  2. Cream together the sugar, butter, vanilla, and spices
  3. Mix in the ground nuts, the remaining flour, and the baking powder; the dough will be very crumbly at this point
  4. Stir in enough milk for the dough to hold together
  5. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill (in the fridge for 2 hours or in the freezer for 30 minutes)
  6. Preheat oven to 325° F
  7. Roll to 1/8 inch thickness, cut into desired shapes, and bake on parchment paper for 15 minutes (King Arthur suggests 15-20, but my cookies were ready between 12-15 minutes)
  8. Enjoy!
Posted in book lists, family life, musings, Uncategorized

celebrating St. Francis

I feel like the holidays come fast and furious once fall arrives! They are such a fun way to introduce or remind myself and my kids of the great men and women of God, and to help direct our own hearts back to Him as well.

St. Francis of Assisi’s feast day falls on October 4, less than a week after Michaelmas, providing a beautiful foil to the Michaelmas stories and themes of dragons, knights, and (spiritual or otherwise) battle. For of course, St. Francis is one of the gentlest saints in the liturgy: a man who gave up wealth and power; who befriended the outcast, the poor, and the sick; who rejoiced in the beauty of nature and loved animals as well as people with tenderness and understanding. While Michael illustrates the bravery and glory of fighting against evil, Francis illustrates the courage and beauty of seeking redemption and reconciliation.

(Of course, due to sickness and poor planning on my part, we didn’t actually celebrate until the 11th… better late than never I suppose!)

To introduce the boys to St. Francis, I checked out two books that seemed to have good reviews and were actually available at our local library. First:

St. Francis and the Wolfby Richard Egielski

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This is a legend, retold in a way that is satisfyingly scary for a younger audience, without being over the top, and while retaining an emphasis on Francis’s message of peace and love. It shows how the obvious solution to something scary, dangerous, or disliked – trying to get rid of it or destroy it – isn’t always as effective as trying to communicate and make peace. And really it is just a well-told, fun story. Rondel has asked for this book many times since we borrowed it, and enjoys acting out the various characters as well!

Brother Sun, Sister Moon, by Katherine Patterson

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This book is an illustrated retelling of St. Francis’s canticle of the creatures in words that are accessible for small children, yet still retain the beauty and majesty of the original. The illustrations are exquisite as well, with every page showing how the aspect of creation in question (sun, moon, fire, wind, and so on) touches and blesses our world, as the words describe how those things reflect and honor their Creator. I was concerned that this book would be too advanced for the boys, but they have asked for it several times and are always held captivated by the beauty of its poetry and art. It makes a good counterpart to the more “fun” story above, also!

In addition to the books, we tried to make a sun-and-moon window hanger, but ran out of steam partway through due to the aforementioned illnesses; if we had more energy, I would have also had us make a bird feeder so that we could practice kindness to the animals around us as well (there aren’t many other animals besides birds in the middle of a city, since we don’t have pets…). While we don’t have the cold weather that makes feeders a perfect gift for the birds in October in other parts of the world, there are many native birds that benefit from feeders targeted at their unique needs and adaptations. Ah well, maybe next year 🙂

In the meantime, my goal is to emulate St. Francis’s compassion and gentleness, beginning in my home with my family but hopefully spreading outward to the other people with whom my life intersects! I also hope that, like him, I would have the courage to do what is right regardless of how strange it looks to the people around me. He somehow managed to care deeply for people without being a people-pleaser – a combination which strikes me as both a worthy and a difficult goal.

Posted in family life

Michaelmas 2017

This year, for the first time, our family celebrated Michaelmas – a traditional holiday in both the Catholic church and the Waldorf educational philosophy, honoring the angels (the name comes from the angel Michael) and emboldening us to fight against evil in our world and our own hearts.

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Michael is often portrayed in religious art as slaying a dragon (representative of Satan), as he is considered to have led the armies of angels against the devil, casting them out of heaven. Going strictly from Biblical texts, there is also Gabriel’s message to Daniel, in which he says that he has been delayed because he was fighting against the demonic powers in Persia and had to have help from Michael to get past that barricade to Daniel. In either case, from the little that is said about the angel Michael it appears that he is a mighty spiritual warrior, and one whose strength comes from God and is without arrogance or pride (the very name Michael means “who is like God?” – signifying rhetorically that no matter how great of a warrior and leader he is, even then he is not like God, not on the same level as God. Michael stands for exactly the opposite of the devil’s error of pride in believing he could actually be like God, an equal in power and worth.)

So for Michaelmas, the celebratory ideas tend to center around this theme of fighting dragons: in a more literal sense for the younger set, and in a more metaphorical sense as well for more application 😉 We didn’t do much; I was going to plan a whole party and invite other families, but I couldn’t get past my social anxiety in time, so it was just us. Fortunately, however, I was able to make a dragon costume for my brother and some quick “swords” for the boys, so they could fight away a dragon in honor of the day (just like Michael! With the power of God! I’m not sure that those connections were made though…)

IMG_7706I made the mask using a template I bought from Wintercroft on Etsy, from card stock, and threw together the cape at the last minute from a curtain left behind by the previous owners of our previous house (I’m a bit of a hoarder when it comes to fabric… but see, you never know when it might be useful!)

The swords were made from pool noodles, cut in thirds; the hilts were felt circles with an X cut in the center for the noodle to slide through.

Rondel jumped into the fray instantly, laughing from the excitement of battle, ferociously attacking the dragon as it roared and advanced and battered him with its scaly wings and fiery breath:

Limerick stood back and observed for a while, but when the dragon disarmed Rondel he began to fight wholeheartedly, keeping the dragon at bay until Rondel came back with a new sword and they could “kill” the dragon together.

(Aubade stayed out of the fray with Grandma… the poor baby was terrified of the dragon mask and screamed out the alarm even when Rondel was bouncing around with it on later.)

As I’ve personally been thinking about the holiday, I’ve been trying to identify the dragons I end up fighting most often. They might not breathe fire and hoard treasure, but they do wreak havoc and destruction on the things that matter most: home, family, and community. The dragons of anxiety and depression try to isolate me from other people and from God with insidious lies; the dragons of impatience and ill-temper try to destroy the relational bridges between me and the people around me. But if I see these things as dragons, it clarifies them in my mind; it gives me something defined to fight against, and a powerful mythic story to illustrate the fight. Like Michael I can throw down my enemy, not because I am so great and mighty, but because there is no one like my God.

Posted in family life

how we celebrated palm sunday

We started with leftover pancakes and stories from the Jesus Storybook Bible. The boys got so excited by the stories that we built Jericho from couch cushions, marched around it seven times, yelled as loud as we could, and watched the walls fall down! We all took turns being inside Jericho and being the Israelites marching outside. (The Jesus Storybook Bible, oddly enough, omits the story of Palm Sunday, as does the Children of God Storybook Bible, so we read other stories this morning instead – most of Holy Week and several from the OT).

I really wanted to take the kids to church but we were all exhausted and slightly sick so that didn’t happen. We did sing together though! From somewhere in the far reaches of my brain I recalled some simple, happy praise songs and in the spirit of the day we sang Ho-ho-ho-hosanna and Praise Ye the Lord several times each.

For the same reasons that church didn’t happen, I knew that naps had to happen, so I told the boys that if they stayed in bed for quiet time until their lullaby CD was finished, we would make Palm Sunday cookies together (the CD is long enough that they usually fall asleep before it’s over). Rondel is extremely bribable these days, especially by sugar… I don’t want to make it part of our regular routine, but I needed them to rest so I could help the sick baby be comfortable and rest as well.

And then we made the promised cookies!

I’m not sure if the boys had used cookie cutters before, but they got the hang of it fairly quickly and only had a few mishaps even with the crumbly shortbread dough! Rondel helped me roll it out once also, and did a pretty good job considering how young he is and how infrequently he’s used a rolling pin. And whenever something didn’t work perfectly I just said, we can fix it! or, we can roll it out another time and try again! So we were able to get all the cookies made with minimal stress on anyone’s part, although I did have to strictly enforce access to the unrolled dough to prevent them from eating it all as fast as humanly possible.

During dinner I found our Bible Animal Stories book and read the Palm Sunday story from the perspective of a donkey (we have a lot of kids’ Bibles floating around our house…). It captured the excitement of the event really well, how everyone would have been so caught up in the enthusiasm and carried away in the emotion. It always amazes me how just a few days later those same people would be caught up in the storm of accusation against him.

I hope you all had a wonderful Palm Sunday! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!

Posted in family life, musings, Uncategorized

beauty in the little things

newborn baby giggles as little girl slips, milk-drunk, into sleep in my arms…

the smell of fresh bread, sweet and citrusy, to celebrate Epiphany…

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it got a bit lopsided but tasted delicious!

warm sun and a cool breeze and a couple hours at the park with my family…

little boys all crazy smiles running through the splash pad in the cold…
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warming up before heading back into the spray

sunlight on baby girl’s face, streaming through the window to the changing table, holding her spellbound for a good twenty minutes…

little boy hugs, head laid down on baby’s tummy, arms ever-so-gently tucked around her…

big boy love, wild and exuberant, caring and protective, running joyfully in each morning to say hi to the baby, showing her his toys, getting up at dinner to check on her…

tiny fingers capturing us all with their utter perfection…

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not forgetting that tiny perfect nose and mouth and chin of course! or the perfect chubby curve of that tiny cheek…

Postpartum is hard. But in with the hard times, there is so much beauty – beauty in the new life, beauty in the old familiar everyday that keeps on going on – and the beauty is what keeps me going on as the old and the new become one.

Posted in family life, musings

God the Rescuer (and learning from my three-year-old)

O Leader of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!

We’ve been using the Advent season to read through the stories of the Old Testament, using the Children of God Storybook Bible by Archbishop Desmond Tutu for our Advent candle devotion time as well as the Jesus Storybook Bible for our bedtime reading. One of the themes Rondel’s picked up on and really loves is that of God rescuing His people – I’ll ask him which story he wants to read (because we’ve already read through them all in order) and he’ll literally say, “The one where God rescues His people!”

So we read the stories where God parts the Red Sea, David trusts God and kills Goliath, where Esther speaks up to the king on behalf of God’s people, where God rescues Daniel from the lions and Jonah from drowning, and, interestingly to me because it’s more abstract, where God promises to send the Rescuer after Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit. He hangs on every word.

It’s not a theme that has often caught my attention in the past. I’ve never needed rescuing in any significant way, after all, and other themes in the Bible have seemed more relevant or more attractive. (For example, I would say yesterday’s antiphon, with its emphasis on wisdom and knowledge, is one of my favorites, and represents a characteristic of God and of the Church that means a lot to me). So I’m appreciative of Rondel’s attention to it, because it is opening my eyes to the way God works with power on behalf of both nations and individuals.

And in a world filled with refugees, with the poor, with the unjustly imprisoned, I want my son to know that God is a Rescuer, and that he can labor in that work with God.