Posted in family life, musings, quotes, sqt

{sqt} – some awesome saints, and other thankful things

I’m linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum today – head over and read the other quick takes!

  1. Right now, I’m so thankful for the communion of saints and for the wisdom of the church in setting up set days to remember them! I’m thankful for St. Therese of Lisieux, whose feast day was earlier this week, and her reminder to me that all that matters is to love God – and that I can love Him completely and faithfully in each small, tedious, mundane act of service and duty that I do. I’m thankful for her example of perseverance and submission, accepting the waves of life as God brought them and honoring the human authorities over her.
  2. I’m also thankful for St. Francis, who we celebrate today, and his radical yet simple life of faith. How could I not want to learn from and follow in the footsteps of a man who saw and respected the beauty and dignity of all nature without succumbing to the nature-worship of the ancients or the romantic poets, who received visions from God but interpreted them so literally that he may have been autistic and certainly appeared foolish, who embraced that foolishness and transformed it into complete humility, who designed his own way of life and faith yet never broke fellowship with the institution of the Church, who lived in utter poverty and served the least and the forgotten? When a person’s prayers are preserved 700 years after their life and still ring with deep resonance and passion, that is a person I want to emulate and honor, whose prayers I wish to echo.

“I pray, O Lord, that the fiery and sweet strength of Your love may absorb my soul from all things that are under heaven, that I may die for love of Your love as You deigned to die for love of my love.

St. Francis, prayer to obtain divine love
  1. I’m thankful also for the warrior saints – for the angel Michael, who we celebrated on Michaelmas, and for his legendary archetype St. George fighting the dragon. Life can seem so big and demanding and overwhelming to a child, like the dragon loomed large over St. George, but in the saint we find inspiration to fight our dragons, to get up and try again even when we are knocked wounded to the ground, until they are finally slain. Like Michael fighting demons to bring the message of God to Daniel, using his strength and courage and valor to persevere in obedience, so we can summon up those traits (by the grace of God, and by practice and growth) to fight back the temptations to fear, laziness, anger, and any other vice that besets us. We read an illustrated rewriting of Spencer’s version of St. George and the Dragon this year, and it has given both the boys and myself extra motivation to endure in doing good even when it is hard. We know there are dragons; it is good to be reminded that they can be killed.
  1. I’ve been thankful for the weather recently as well! The heat broke and several days of rain blew inland from a hurricane, just a couple weeks after I seeded for the fall garden season, so all the little plants are doing beautifully and the sweet potatoes (which had to be started in the summer) are absolutely thriving – I’m trellising them so the vines don’t take over the garden beds and the vines are at least six feet up the trellis already.
  2. The kids were also so excited about the rain, as it’s such a rare occurrence here and the monsoons were weak this summer. We went on walks all around the neighborhood to enjoy it, Aubade splashing in every puddle, Rondel searching for treasure along the way, and Limerick challenging my strangeness by biking around barefoot in pajama pants and a winter jacket…
  1. There have also been some hard days recently – my moods and autistic sensitivities both oscillate based on a number of factors including my monthly cycle, and irrational guilt plus social anxiety plus hair-trigger sensitivities to certain sounds or touch does not make for a pleasant time. But I am so thankful that Paul understands and supports me through those times. He might not relate to it at all, but he knows it’s a struggle I have and he carries the extra weight of it when I can’t without ever making a big deal about it or drawing attention to himself. He doesn’t get upset when I hide by myself in a curtained side area during church service instead of sitting with him on days when I can’t tolerate the people around me. He makes time for me to rest and then makes sure that it happens when I need it. In short, he is always showing me love.
  2. And finally, I’m thankful for prayer and the Word and a God who draws near to us and longs for us to draw near to Him. I’m thankful for the sacraments: for the physical and tangible things God uses to convey His grace, like the mud and spit He used to give the blind man sight, and the waters of baptism that cleanse more than just our bodies. I’m thankful for His plan of redemption, for the hope that all broken things will be restored and that the glory to come will outweigh the suffering of the present, for the opportunity to say yes to His will and be a part of making all things new.

What are you thankful for this week? I’d love to hear the good things God is working in your life, whether it’s in the weather or a book or a relationship 🙂

Posted in sqt

{sqt} – july quick takes: getting ready for school

  1. School starts early here in the valley, and while we’re not tied to any specific school schedule, I’m feeling ready to settle into more routine and structure than we’ve had in our (very fun and very busy) summer so far. Actually, for the first time in my life I’m creating tentative weekly and monthly schedules and will be trying to keep track of things in my own custom planner! I have never been able to maintain a planner for more than a week, so we’ll see how this goes.
  2. The most exciting part of preparing for school has been making a list of all the books I want to buy 🙂 My husband will probably arch his eyebrows at me and comment about our lack of shelf space, but I currently have forty-five books on my list and I’m sure I’ll come up with more!
  3. I’m also thinking of purchasing a science curriculum – I found one that is about climate and biomes from a Montessori background, and while I definitely can’t buy all the physical props to go with it, the curriculum itself still looks like a solid introduction to those topics (very beautifully and thoughtfully laid out). Rondel moved up to a full-day scholarship amount through our state’s ESA program, so we have funds to cover more than speech therapy this year and I may be a bit over-excited about it…
  4. Rondel turned six this month! I haven’t uploaded any of the pictures from my camera yet, but he had a great party with both sides of the family present. He has so much energy now, and so much creativity, and such a love of nature. He’s also starting to decode words and is willing to spend more time practicing writing, so I think we have a pretty solid foundation going into the school year.IMG_3056
  5. One of my other major areas of focus this year is going to be on the saints. Probably more than half of my picture book list is about the lives of various saints, working out to about 1-2 every month (I have several from the library as well – I work at the university, so I can get year-long loans on most of the children’ books, for school purposes). Each saint portrays a slightly different way of loving and following God, and inspires us to love and follow Him in our own way. The community of saints is such a powerful and beautiful reality – and the stories of the saints help us see how the truths of the faith that we hear at church and read in the Bible can be lived out in different cultural and personal circumstances.
  6. Music and art is another thing I want to be more intentional about this upcoming year. Rondel especially loves to make crafts, but he needs a lot of help and things can get messy and I know the creativity won’t be able to shine as much as it could unless I schedule it in and make myself deal with the mess 🙂 And since we do have some auditory sensitivities in the family, I may gently ease into music by making some simple instruments during our craft times, and then using them while singing together. Actually, if you have a list of high quality folk/traditional children’s music I would absolutely love it…
  7. Most importantly, our schedule is full of wide open times to play, explore, and go on adventures and trips. Routine provides stability, but flexibility and (some, minor) spontaneity provides a spark of excitement and energy.

How are you preparing for the new school year? Anything especially exciting or new? Also, don’t forget to visit This Ain’t the Lyceum for the quick takes linkup today!

Posted in musings

walking by faith: because coping with mental illness is like striving for a virtuous life

When you live with a mental illness, you get a lot of practice at redirecting the pathways of your thoughts. Sometimes it’s as simple as stopping and taking a deep breath when the first hint of an unhelpful emotion or mantra wafts in; other times it takes repeated corrections, minute by minute, guiding your thoughts out of the road they want to travel and into a different pattern.

“He’s angry at me”, my mind says – and I have to force myself to look at the facts of the situation, remember he didn’t sleep well last night, so maybe it makes more sense that he is angry at something else or just tired and not showing positive emotions well.

“I can’t do anything right”, it says again, and I have to list off the things that have gone right in the past hour, no matter how small they are, and put the mistake in perspective: I fed the kids a healthy breakfast, I got a shower, I got everyone to speech therapy on time with activities prepared, and it’s not the end of the world if they only have socks on and their shoes are sitting at home…

“You’ll never be worth anything, they’d all be better off without you”, it repeats, and I have to turn the feelings inside out, repeat what I believe in the core of my being about the innate worth and dignity of the human person, remember the irrational and inexplicable unconditional love of a child, pray for the strength to run my race with endurance as did the saints who suffered and died for their faith, lift up my head like a superhero knocked down but not out once again.

The emotions are harder to deal with, being by nature less specific of a difficulty. Sometimes it seems as if the whole world is covered in a gray mist, blocking out the color and the joy and the reason to try, and all you can do is make your way from one task to the next, drawing on reservoirs of strength you didn’t know you had, waiting for the sun to break through again. Sometimes guilt (or self-loathing, or whatever the word for it is) attacks like a fistful of knives in your brain, and you hold your breath through the mental pain and then, somehow, inhale again and lift your face to the fight once more. Sometimes everything you take in is edged with inexplicable sadness, the inverse of a silver lining, and you embrace the beauty anyway, despite the bittersweet twist in your heart.

And what I’ve been coming to realize, lately, is that this turning away from the easier path into downward mental spirals and unhelpful thought patterns, and this setting of my feet so carefully and unsteadily in new ways of thinking, is really very similar to the process of living a virtuous life. Here is my fear, dissuading me from some act of charity or justice or faithfulness – now I must turn my thoughts aside from that path, from the rationalizing of my cowardice, and take an action I very much do not have the emotional support to make. And in the act, I make it that much easier to choose courageously in the future. There is my anger, snapping out at the people I love, roughening my edges to sharp and jagged lines, giving me hurtful words to hurl – now I must close my mouth, count to ten, pray for peace and gentleness and self-control, try to look through another’s eyes, and eventually even try to speak in kindness and in calm. And in the act – in every time I try, even if I do not entirely succeed – I train my mind and will to not fall so automatically into the pathway of that vice. It’s rather a daunting thought, knowing that I have both sanity and virtue at stake here 😉 – but on the other hand, what practice I will have at it! And with God near at hand with His grace and strength, and the community of saints present to encourage and guide me, I have hope that my practice (in both arenas!) will not be in vain.

Posted in family life

2017

2017 is coming to a close.

We started out with postpartum depression and RSV; we’re ending with all three kids sick with the flu! (Well, to be more accurate, they were sick over Christmas and are mostly better now.) In between we fit more into one year than I would have thought possible, with therapies, medications, travel, moving into a new home, dipping our toes into the world of special needs education, and beginning a new round of transitions with my husband graduating and finding a job (which will start shortly after the New Year).

And I have learned so much this year, including about things that I thought I already understood but was able to look at from personal experience or through the new and edifying perspective of someone else’s experience or research. I acknowledged my anxiety as an obstacle in my path rather than a personal failing, thereby removing the associated guilt and shame and allowing myself to move forward; I began to make space for myself and the people I love to be different, express their differences, and be loved for who they are with those differences; I learned when to stand up for myself and when to disengage, and that both are ok given the circumstances as well as my own mental state; and I found the courage to make uncommon decisions for uncommon reasons without becoming defensive or belittling the choices I turned down. At least, those are the seeds of change that are beginning to germinate within me as a result of this year – I think I could spend a lifetime watching them grow!

This was also a year of good reading. What began as a way to cope with my depression when almost nothing else could distract my mind from the darkness turned into a re-ignition of my lifelong compulsive love of books and a chance to discover new characters, adventures, worlds, and authors. For the first time since childhood I kept a book log for myself, which was a massively encouraging endeavor in and of itself, and managed to read and record 84 previously-unread-by-me books since I started tracking mid-January! I think the books deserve their own post so I will say no more here – but it was a major part of my year and a consistent source of pleasure and refreshment as well as an escape from my own head.

And of course this was the year of Aubade, since she just barely made an appearance in 2016 but has by now infiltrated herself into every thread of the warp and weave of our lives. Through her, the boys have gained independence and learned compassion and gentleness. She has stolen our sleep but given us laughter. She is a confident baby princess, secure in her belief that whatever she wants, she should have, and she will get it for herself if no one will get it for her! She is a fearless baby explorer, certain that she can do whatever she sets her mind to do, and that around every corner (or behind every door, or on top of every high place) there is something new and exciting to discover. She is a bestower of hugs and a jealous claimant to her mommy’s lap. She is a passionate lover of showers (or pools, or baths, or splash pads), peek-a-boo, mud on her fingers, the thrill of the climb, the loudness of blenders and vacuums, snuggles with the people she loves, and singing or playing music. I can hardly believe she has only been in our lives for a year, because life without her would seem so empty.

Overall, it was a year of crashing lows, dark valleys to endure, and steep mountains to climb (my saint for the year was St. Jude, patron of hopeless causes, and it certainly seemed fitting when I was in the depths of the depression) – but it was also a year of soaring highs, transcendent mountain views, and glorious sunrises. A more stable and mundane year would certainly have been easier, but I am thankful for the things that happened and the way they shaped the person I am now. And now, let the adventures of 2018 begin!

 

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

francisandwolf

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

brothersunsistermoon

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.

Michael4

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.