Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Fleece Angels

On the eve of a new year, I wanted to wish all blog readers a very blessed rest of the Christmas season with this lovely fleece angel from my friend Melissa Yoder Ricks of Wild Hare Fiber Studio. Melissa spins her own wool from all-natural fibers and knits and creates unique and lovely items, everything from hand-dyed yarn (I bought some for knitting friends this Christmas) to luxurious cashmere shawls. In addition, she is a Catholic mom trying to raise a large family in less than ideal circumstances. Feel free to check out her etsy shop, and if you like what you see, add her to your treasury!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Buffet

We had a wonderfully relaxed Christmas this year, paradoxically, for it was full of guests, cooking, and good food, and little sleep. But God seemed to direct the schedule, and each thing came in its time. This morning I decided to leave our holiday dishes on the table so that eating could remain spontaneous and easy as the mood strikes a family member. Also because I am loving the way everything looks so nicely laid out. May God bless your family during this Christmas season!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Silk Dyeing Party!

What an atypical holiday party -- no low lights, no cool clothes, and no food! But what fun we had! Last year some other moms and I held a "silk dyeing party" to make play silks for our children for Christmas, and it was lovely!
I am a big fan of play silks, large squares of silk that children can use as capes, costumes, or drapes for play houses. These silks retail for about $10 each, but a few years ago I discovered that Dharma Trading sells plain white hemmed Habatoi silk scarves for as low as $3.50 each. I made a small investment in getting Procion dyes and the necessary chemicals (Turquoise, Fuchsia Red, and Lemon Yellow will give you all the colors of the rainbow if you mix them) and started vat dyeing my own scarves years ago. Then a friend told me about microwave dyeing, and the idea of having a scarf-dyeing Christmas party was conceived. (Check my blog here for instructions on how to dye in a microwave.)
So last year we held the party, and it was a fun evening that yielded many lovely scarves, including a Great Silk Rainbow made from nine yards of Dharma's 8 mm silk. And I couldn't resist photographing the scarves drying in the dishdrain. After being laundred, the colors were more delicate but still true.
We're holding our second annual party this year, and I'm looking forward to it. For a cost-effective stocking-stuffer that will enhance your young child's imagination, consider dyeing your own silks!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Ave Fit Ex Eva!

Happy feast of the Immaculate Conception! Today at Mass I had an inspiration to pick up a few little treats to celebrate our Lady's conception. For afternoon snack I served soda clear as water in honor of Mary's purity, oranges for the flames of the Holy Spirit, and yoghurt-covered pretzels that remind us of the Virgin's arms crossed in prayer. Silver and a blue-silk scarf for our statue of our Lady completed the place setting. The medieval song delighted in the palindrome of "Eva" becoming "Ave": Mary's "yes" reversed Eve's "no," just as the Latin "Eva" (Eve) spelled in reverse is "Ave" (Hail, the first word of the Angelic Salutation).

So today we sing with the medievals, "Ave has come out of Eva!" Ave Fit Ex Eva!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Wanted: Bears for Joshua

As we have done for the past two years, I will be collecting teddy bears to donate to charity in memory of my son Joshua Michael, whose family nickname was "Joshua Bear." Last year, the bears went to Be Not Afraid Ministries, who gave them to parents experiencing a difficult pregnancy. I have emailed them to ask if they'd like more bears: if not, I will be looking for a different charity to send them to. Please let me know if you have any suggestions!

If you'd like to contribute, please mail medium or smaller-size brown or beige teddy bears (please no white or pastel or colored! These are "boy" bears :) ), either new or good-as-new (they can definitely be "played with" and "handled" but they probably shouldn't be in such bad condition that a thrift store would refuse to sell them), that we can use to decorate our tree and then pass on to a good cause after the holiday season.

If you have any bears you'd like to pass on to me, you can mail them to me at:

Regina Doman - Bears for Joshua
P. O. Box 949
Front Royal, VA 22630

If you need a street address for UPS, email me at and I'll send you one.

So if you come across any extra teddies in your housecleaning, toy downsizing, or Christmas sales, feel free to pass them on to me! Thank you!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Abundance out of Simplicity

How to create abundance out of simplicity? That is the magic I attempt to create each Christmas. Abundance, because Christmas is about the abundance of God's blessings: symbolized by the diversity and array of the ornaments on the Christmas tree. Simplicity, because we are an American family, and material goods of every description are constantly drawn to us as though by magnetism.

On the one hand, we dread being awash in piles of useless clutter that clogs the rhythmn of our lives and gluts our senses. On the other hand, we both need and desire various material goods, goods which bring a pleasure of their own and which have either a usefulness or a beauty that delights us. Navigating the pulls of both poles is the feat we attempt each holiday season.

How to celebrate poverty with abundance, simplicity with festivity -- that is the paradox of preparation for Christmas.

One time-tested strategy we've adopted is the Rule of Three Gifts: our little Lord Jesus only received three gifts Himself: gold, frankincense, and myrrh, so our children receive the same (plus a stocking). And we warn them to only set their heart on one gift, and be open to what else they might recieve. Thus, they only ask for one, knowing they will only get three.

Last year I wrapped each of the three gifts in a different color paper, stacked them into a pyramid, and tied the stack with thin red ribbon. To create abundance with three gifts, I try to make each a different sort of gift that can be used in a different way: for instance, a fun book, a toy, and a pretty piece of clothing.

This past year our three girls received decorative clog boots from Hanna Andersson that I had miraculously caught on clearance. I packed colored felt, wool, and pipe cleaners into tin boxes for the older girls along with small craft books. My younger daughter was delighted by a Kusi doll from Nova Natural. And is traditional, they each received a fairy tale book from their father and I. Small dolls, accessories, and candy crept their way into the stockings.

My older son received a longer book, computer equipment, and the remote control toy he had his eye on. His younger brother received wooden horses for his knights, a book and CD on knights, and was surprised by a racetrack set from his godfather. (The latter gift did not survive Christmas week, but provided hours of family entertainment while it lasted.)

Gifts beyond three are given to the family at large, or saved for Epiphany. Typically any gift that arrives via mail or visit during the Twelve Days of Christmas is stockpiled for Epiphany. These gifts are the "surplus" that come out of God's blessings, and yes, sometimes there are more gifts on Epiphany than on Christmas! God has His own way of creating abundance.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Day After A Party

We love having parties. Typically, we try to give an open house around All Saint's Day. This past month, we combined it with hosting the first official Fairy Tale Novel Fan Forum Gathering. All our parties have the same format: we ask everyone to bring a dish, drink, snack, or dessert to share, we clean the house, and we start around noon and go on till whenever. This year we were delighted to have The Miller Sisters come and play a set in our living room (which converted to a "stage" so easily that I had hope we can do it again). It was wonderful to have our house filled with friends old and new enjoying themselves.
But I have to say one of my favorite parts of hosting a party is the morning after, when we group the remnants of the food into breakfast and snacks for the lazy-day-afterwards. I stumbled upon a new way to create a buffet display during this party: I stacked our two benches atop one another and covered them with a fall-colored tablecloth. Leftover wine and hard cider glows on the top level, and the pumpkins and fall flowers still look fresh. And thanks to some thoughtful guests, the floor and room are actually clean! Once again we were thankful to all the friends who helped make our party a success: we look forward to seeing you all again!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Window Fairies

Lately I've been finding evidence that our home is inhabited by fairies, as this photo proves. If you're looking for a Christmas gift for a crafting girl, don't neglect Fairies: Petal People You Can Make Yourself, a delightful Klutz book that includes a kit of fairy-making material. It was a Three King's Day present last year for one of our girls, and, as floral wire, embroidery floss and wooden beads are inexpensive, and artificial flowers are free for the picking in the ditch bordering a nearby cemetery (where windblown memorial displays routinely come to a dismal end), fairies continue to populate the recesses of our home: sometimes I discover them tattered and adventure-stained in the toybox; sometimes perched on a window, resplendent in newly-created beauty. Witness these four "fairies of the seasons": Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter, who currently have taken up residence near the candleholders and flower vases on the buffet near our dining table. And I can say I am happy to be graced with their presence. May you be so blessed!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Drawer Organization

When it came time to organize that catchall-of-catchalls, the top bureau drawer of my dresser, I longed to have money to buy sleek wire organizers. But being short of cash as usual, I started using old trays and candy boxes, and lo and behold, I liked the result so much better. I just started with a stack of shallow wooden and cardboard boxes and trays. I divided the things that "live" in my top drawer into different piles, then put each pile into a box or box lid corresponding to the proper size. Then I just arranged the boxes and lids in the drawer, adding smaller boxes and trays and favorite things to fill out the space and keep things from sliding around.

So the contents are (from left to right) my fall scarves, my spare eyeglass case, a hand mirror, and a wood cigar box with snack baggies of jewelry (divided up according to style and color: I am becoming my mother!). Polly's baby socks and shoes dwell in a basket and box in the middle of the drawer: below them are special pieces of jewelry in cases and some Catholic keepsakes. Even my inhaler has a home beneath my miniature journals, and all my hair necessities are on a bright red tray at the bottom so I can grab them without fully opening the drawer.

So far the items in the drawer have been fairly-well-behaved even after several months: though the scarves and socks get messy, it's never been easier to find my jewelry!

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Visit to Sylvan Hollow: Magic Rocks

I was fascinated by this little project Clare did with her daughter: she took a bunch of broken crayons and mixed them in an old baking pan with ordinary pebbles, and put them in the oven. The crayons melted all over the rocks and made these "magic rocks" that Anastasia enjoys playing with in her sandbox. What a fun idea!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

October Costumes!

I had to interrupt this visit to Sylvan Hollow to tell you about some beautiful homemade costumes now available for sale from Our Coat of Many Colors. If you are looking for a saint's costume for All Saints Day, a Halloween costume, a Tolkien reenactment costume, or just a general dress-up outfit for your child, I encourage you to investigate the lovely garb available from this cottage industry company. Our Coat of Many Colors is run by Debbie and Maria, two friends who love costumes. As Debbie has a family member with a serious illness (please pray for him), Maria's been helping out with orders. She invited me to review their costumes, and my daughters had a hard time choosing, but finally settled on the pretty Saint Rose costume. For those of you who know Saint Rose, she ended her years living in a little hovel outside her family home, so our Saint Rose stands at the door of our playhouse. The costume includes a beautifully-trimmed blue dress (with room for a turtleneck or t-shirt beneath), red shawl, and white mantilla.

I have to say my son fell instantly in love with their Saint George costume. It was quite comprehensive: black pants, silver "chain mail" shirt and hood, and plastic "dragon armor" breastplate and helmet to be worn on top. Not to mention the shield and cool silver sword. So if you're on the lookout for a quality costume for All Hallows or a Christmas surprise, please check out the website: they have an amazingly large selection, and they take orders as well!

Monday, October 06, 2008

A Visit to Sylvan Hollow: Small girls' bedroom

Since I started this post, I've learned that Clare and Nick were blessed with the birth of little Isabel. (Click here for the post!) So it seems fitting to post about the sweet bedroom Clare created for their daughters.

I forget where Clare said she had acquired this cheerful Japanese-inspired picture of white rabbits, but she admits she created the entire bedroom color scheme around this picture: pale robin's egg blue, red, spring green, and white.IKEA provided the foundation, as Clare purchased her curtains, bedroom drapes, rug, and accessories from their children's collection, but added her own homemade touches of pillows and quilt. The changing table provides print-covered storage, and the window features a quintet of paper stained-glass cutouts made by Mommy.

The salvaged bookshelf features different colored shelves and a wallpaper background to provide a happy home for fairytale-themed books and toys, and someday it might grow into a dollhouse apartment building? There's room for expansion indeed in this little girls' room.

Friday, October 03, 2008

A Visit to Sylvan Hollow: Kitchen

Our family was recently gladdened by the return of an old friend to our area. Nick has been a favorite family friend for years, a juggler-aikido master-tea-loving Catholic with a deeply serious faith (some readers will note his resemblance to my character Paul Fester from The Midnight Dancers: it would be more proper to say that Paul Fester resembles him). Several years ago, Nick moved away, but he recently returned to our area with his bride, Clare, and little girl Anastasia. They have acquired a charming little property near our area, which Nick has appropriately dubbed Sylvan Hollow. We were delighted by a recent visit, and I wanted to share some photographs of their little cottage home, which (like ours) is a work-in-progress.
Clare and Nick were enchanted by the cottage's numerous homey details, such as the shelves over each kitchen window for storing baking good and Nick's teapot collection, which sweetened the realization of how much extensive work the cottage required. One project should come to fruition soon: installing a real woodburning stove in the kitchen chimney.

Though the kitchen cabinets already in the cottage are small, and a little worse for wear, Clare is inclined to keep them simply because of their time-worn charm. Somehow new cabinets off-the-rack from Lowes would not seem as comfortable as these unique handmade ones.

Even I, the perennial plastic-hater, was charmed by these vintage red Tupperware dry goods pins and quirky egg accessories Clare has poised on a window shelf.

PS: If you'd like to visit a little longer at Sylan Cottage and see some adorable handmade toys, be sure to check out Clare's blog.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Cooking with Apples

Every fall we look forward to the apple harvest: going up to Hartland Orchards and coming home with several bushels of apples. After we went this past Sunday, my husband and daughter couldn't resist plunging right into cooking and baking, even though it was a day of rest. Having said no to buying caramel apples at the orchard, my husband proceeded to create them from scratch when we got home, using sugar cooked slowly on the stove. And I decided to try my hand at apple strudel. Though I cannot make my pastry so thin that newprint can be read through it, as my Czech forebears could, my efforts were crowned with success. So were my husband's. But then again, it's difficult to ruin anything that contains lots of brown sugar, cinnamon, and fresh, tart apples.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Favorite Baby Distraction

For a long time, I've wanted to post about this secret distracting toy I use to keep my toddlers occupied, especially during conferences or retreats. When I sat in on a few classes of the truly excellent Act One writing program, I had my baby Thomas in tow. I packed toys to distract him during the five-hour classes, and this is one I always brought along.

It's deceptively simple: eight satin-brocade covered rectangular and square cardboard boxes backed into a square tin: small, light, noiseless, and unbreakable, if not indestructible. (The boxes were sold as a set on Montessori Services. I found the tin on my own.) But for whatever reason, toddlers find them fascinating.

The Montessori exercise, which my two-year-old is performing here, is to take the lids off the boxes, and then try to put the correct lids on each box, matching both the shape and the color of the box. She then puts them back in the box, which is a little tricky as you have to line up the squares and rectangles to get them to fit.
But younger babies find them just as intriguing. They take the lids off, they gnaw on them (which is the one way they can be destroyed, btw, eventually), they stack them like blocks, they throw them, they put them in and out of the tin... I don't know what makes these boxes such good "distractors" during grown-up activities like talks where baby activity is not appreciated. Maybe it's the colors. Maybe it's the fact that they don't make any noise when they're played with. Maybe it's the way they loan themselves to hide-and-seek and surprises (I've put Cheerios and treats inside each one). All I know is, when I'm off to a talk with a toddler in tow, I put this bag inside my tote or briefcase. I've replaced the boxes over the years, and I tend to keep it packed away, so that's it's always a "new toy" when I bring it out.

(Note: I tried to find the boxes at Montessori Services, but they don't seem to be on the site. Perhaps they would know where to find them, though. Blog reader Deeny found a similar item at this link for wedding favors. Let me know if you find any other sites that sell them online and I'll link to it.)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Victoria for a new generation

I finally happened upon an issue of the revived Victoria magazine, and was delighted. After perusing a copy, I realized that here at last was a woman's magazine I could share with my growing girls. Not only because it was "safe" but because Victoria, as the magazine was originally conceived, gives girls a vision of womanhood worth aspiring to, in an age when so much that is truly feminine is denigrated and mocked.
I remember sadly cancelling my subscription some years ago as the models in its pages began showing clothes that were more exploitational than gracious, and the articles seemed to be chasing after the emptiness of radical feminism and sexual liberation. It is with joy that I have rediscovered the magazine that delighted me as a teenager. I wrote immediately for a subscription, together with a letter expressing my sincere hope that the new staff of Victoria will continue to dedicate themselves to the original vision of beauty and womanhood that enlivened this delicately and mischieviously counter-cultural journal.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Simplify Your Domestic Church!

In the past month I've made a new friend and become acquainted with a wonderful apostolate: Abby Sasscer and Home as Haven. Abby's mission is to help Catholic homeschooling moms (or any Catholic moms) simplify and organize their lives. Since she lives in my area, I was able to take advantage of her free home assessment (she accepts a donation to cover her costs). Two weeks ago, she came to my house, went over our entire home, and made recommendations tailored to my needs.
Armed with her pep talk about detachment, simplicity, and generousity, I went through all my storage (some of which hadn't been touched since we moved here three years ago) and gave away nearly two dozen garbage bags of clothes, household goods, books, and toys. What a tremendous difference it has made in our home! My husband is more content, even though most of the clutter was out of sight most of the time. I reorganized my laundry room and have even more plans to optimize it.
Although Abby noted that I already had some organization plans in place, one of my problem areas was labeling containers, so that other family members could take advantage of my "systems." (I suppose I'm one of those people who had the system "all in my head" -- but no one else could ever figure out where things went.) So I've been going through the home making labels -- the ones for the children's rooms were hurriedly written on tape, but now I'm making more sophisticated ones for our public areas, such as the kitchen, on our computer printer with Fontcraft demo fonts.
So I'm very grateful to have found Abby's work, and I encourage you to take advantage of her free downloadable book, Simplifying Your Domestic Church. It's wonderful to have a book on home organization that includes Catholic spirituality: don't we all need more motivation to organize and clean?
And since Abby and I have found that we come to many of the same conclusions despite our different viewpoints (she is motivated by achieving order, I by creating beauty), we are talking eagerly about a joint venture: perhaps a book on housekeeping for Catholics that can incorportate both motivators? Stay tuned, and in the meantime, peruse her book and website!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Corner Spot

This fall we have gotten our homeschool/meeting room to a nearly-finished stage (almost all the drywall is up!) so our homeschool cabinet traveled upstairs at last. And I moved my cedar chest (which I have been refinishing for years) next to our dining room table. Coincidentally, I won an Antibes Shelf from Ballard Designs on Ebay, and it turned out to be the perfect focal point for this little spot.
I moved a few favorite pieces to the area: my husband's wrought-iron lantern I bought him as a gift, a set of nesting flower bowls, an original scratchboard illuminated poem by Canadian artist Sarah Hockin, pottery glasses from our wedding, a silver tray, and my prize "real china teaset with pictures all in blue" that my children and I bought at Christmastime years ago. I spray-painted black the picture frame of an illuminated George Herbert poem by Canadian artist Sarah Hockin, and it fit perfectly. My husband was so charmed by the arrangement he made a special request that I blog it for him. Right now the scheme is green-and-blue (we are still in summer). I expect I'll change some of the pieces as the weather chills and I bring out my reds-and-greens for Christmas. But enjoy!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Humble Homage to Mother Teresa

My friend Melissa Yoder Ricks has her own fibercraft business, Wildhare Fiber Studio. A Catholic convert and expert knitter and spinner, Melissa creates unique yarns and knittings while raising her large family. I was captivated by these potholders she designed in honor of Mother Teresa and our Lady. On her Etsy store, she writes:
For her habit, Mother Teresa adopted a simple and inexpensive sari like those worn by the low caste Indians that she ministered to. This sari - white, with a vivid blue border - became known throughout the world, and is the inspiration for the first of the two dishclothes in this listing.
The second dishcloth is knit in Trinity Stitch in varigated blue cotton yarn. Blue has traditionally stood for fidelity and purity, and is the color traditionally associated with the Virgin Mary. The nobby texture of the Trinity Stitch makes a good cloth for scrubbing.
Mother Teresa believed that we are all called to service, whatever our station in life, and she embraced hard work and menial chores done with love in the willing service of others. Ideas upon which to reflect while doing the dishes...
Check out Wildhare Fiber Studio, if you're looking for a unique Christmas gift knitted with love. And her blog is if you share Melissa's love of fiber arts and family.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Christmas Gift Proposal

Well, as is my wont, I'm already planning for Christmas (I hate shopping for gifts in December!). And right now I'm talking with my brother-in-law about the very neat playstands he made for his daughters a few Christmases ago.

If you're not familiar with a Waldorf playstand, a playstand is a simple movable wooden shelf that children can use to create houses, have a little store, do a puppet show, or any other kind of imaginative play. Because most children use them to make houses or shelters of some kind, it's become popular to make simple canopy frame that fit over the tops so that older children can play in them as well. Two playstands plus a sheet makes a playhouse: and unlike the traditional playhouse, this one can morph easily into a castle, store, or cave with the addition of a little child imagination!

Now that we have a playroom, I'm hoping to have a set of playstands made for our family for Christmas. My brother-in-law Mike Schmiedicke (his little on-the-side company is Strong Oaks Company) makes them out of antique southern yellow pine reclaimed from an 1800's carriage house/horse barn. I think they're so much more interesting than the pale birch ones you usually find for sale. He made a deal with me: if I can help him sell five playstand sets this Christmas, he'll make me one for free.

Magic Cabin sells their playstand set for $279 + 29.99 shipping. and Nova Natural sells a pair of theirs for $318, plus oversize shipping. Mike will make a set of playstands for just $250 plus shipping (and if you live local to us, you can pick up and save yourself shipping!).

If you have toddlers and don't need or want the canopy frame, you can get just the playstands for $180 ($90 apiece).

Mike's playstands have two shelves and a thick top bar for extra sturdiness. They are finished with an all natural non-toxic honey beeswax and citrus oil finish. Mike says he's open to using a lacquer finish for an additional $40. If you would like to have the stands unfinished, he would take $20 off the price.
So if you're interested, please email me at for further details! Thanks!
And wish me luck in my quest for Christmas presents!

UPDATE: Mike has a store at Etsy where you can see and order the playstands! Also the approximate dimensions of the playstands are: 42"Wx40"Hx11"D.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Anniversary Picnic Remains

Funds being what they are after fourteen years of marriage and seven energetic children, we decided to celebrate our anniversary with a grownup picnic rather than a night on the town. But thanks to Trader Joe's, (my new favorite store) we managed a rather elegant one! Brie cheese, crackers, grapes and French bread were paired with cold pre-cooked london broil (for him) and sushi wraps (for me). And you can't go wrong with TJ's famous two-buck chuck: I picked Honey Moon (appropriate title!) for sipping out of our silver wedding champagne glasses.
Silver platters and linen napkins for the food packed just as nicely as paper plates and plastic. And romance was found in a half-dozen red roses and a selection of Trader Joe's gourmet chocolates.
We picnicked at a local winery after hours, toasted one another under the shadow of a mountain peak and a rising moon, and brought home these leftovers and sweet memories.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

End of Summer

My daughter on her adult-sized trike bringing the berries home. As another languid summer comes to an end, I am grateful for yet another year with my family. It is all gift. We are owed nothing.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Random Moment of Beauty: Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne, Queen Anne has washed her lace
(She chose a summer's day)
And hung it in a grassy place
To whiten, if it may.

Queen Anne, Queen Anne has left it there,
And slept the dewy night;
Then waked, to find the sunshine fair,
And all the meadows white.

Queen Anne, Queen Anne is dead and gone
(She died a summer's day)
But left her lace to whiten in
Each weed-entangled way!

by Mary Leslie Newton

For more interesting facts about this lovely flower, click here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Blackberry Picking

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.
-- Seamus Heaney

Monday, August 25, 2008

Summer Abundance

Fruit and flowers, free gifts of the summer days... alas, coming to an end too, too soon.... This August we kept a battered basket in our entryway and made nightly strolls to collect new home decorations and fresh desserts. Even now, my children are still finding the last of the black-hued berries, and the flowers continue their riotous color in the fields.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Delightful Distraction

Forgive my lapse in posting... we have been picking blackberries. The season has now almost ended, but it was our pasttime for the past weeks of languid summer evenings....

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

China Cabinet: Summer display

As blog readers know, I delight in colored glass containers. This is one case in which my photography skills limp pitifully behind the image I wanted to share with you. Next to my desk is an old gun case we converted to a china cabinet/bookshelf. I normally use it for displaying my silver. This summer I thought I would mix in my collection of blue glass mason jars, pink depression glass, a set of green-glass goblets my mother bought me, and my assortment of glass jars and flower vases. I really wish I had glass shelves to set off the colored glass to full advantage, or at least a better flash on my camera. :( However, it looks wonderful in real life, particularly as a mental subsitute for the sumptuous Ventetian glass chandelier I will never own.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne's lace makes a wonderful embellishment to a girl's hair. Even a weed has a
moment of grace.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Chocolate Birthday Cake

My daughter, the gourmet cook, continues to come up with creative ways to decorate cakes, and I had to show off this picture of her July creation for my son's birthday: using the new Skittles Chocolate Mix, she decorated this chocolate cake. I believe her method was this: she first did a row around the edge of the cake of Skittles ranging them from dark to light over and over again. Then she began a new row inside but shifted every color over one step. "It makes it look like a snail shell," she said.
Allow me to gush: isn't she creative?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Plastic-Elimination Campaign: Spice Rack

Not being a gourmet cook like my eleven-year-old, I tend to buy basic spices that come in large 99-cent jars from the dollar store. But of course I can't stand having the jars on my counter. So some time ago I started collecting empty Trader Joe's balsalmic vinegar jars. I love the shape and the cork stoppers. I find they're wonderful for spices: the narrow neck takes the place of a shaker top. I do have a set of shakers for smaller spices I picked up at a flea market. I have them arranged on an IKEA shelf that has been with us since the early days of our marriage. Someday, I will get custom made labels for my spices from one of those custom-made label places, but for now I'm happy with a permanent marker, even though it does wipe off.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Favorite Things: Serving Pedestals

I admit, I love silver and I love dishes on pedestals. I was first introduced to the beauty of pedestals at a homey hole-in-the-wall pizzeria, where the pizza was served on pedestals so that even six diners could gather around the restarant's diminuitive tables to eat. I actually own one restaurant pedestal, bought from a diner going-out-of business. I happened upon the other two in separate thrift stores: they cost about $8.00 each. Right now I don't use them very often, but they always stay on my counter. Alas, the glass cake stand I blogged about has met its demise, but its top remains with us, at least as of this blogging, as you can see from the photo above.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Purse Diary: Done!

I'm glad I managed to finish the purse before the end of the summer! I have to say, I think it turned out pretty well. The bright colors are uplifting to me now, and I have hopes of carrying this purse into the fall. And because to the button-on cover, I can change it again for another look later on. :) Thanks for those of you who were following my little project: it's wonderful to be able to chalk it up as: done!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What Can I Give God?

I have to say I'm becoming very fond of the book series that my friend Ben Hatke is doing with my other friend Neal Lozano. I just received their third book in the mail, and it's gorgeous, with a cover that reminds me of summertime. If you're not familiar with the books, visit the site to see their trilogy of books, Will You Bless Me? and Can God See Me in the Dark? Gently ecumenical in text but thoroughly Catholic in sensibility, these hardcover books with their handsome typesetting would be wonderful gifts for the children in your life. Enjoy!

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Spiritual Bouquet

I had the honor of attending the funeral of Thom and Marc Girard on July 5th, and when I went up, I presented the family with a spiritual bouquet of prayers from the teens on the Fairy Tale Novel Forum (Marc was a member). The night before, I was inspired to create a bouquet card out of paper to present the bouquet. It was fairly simple: I printed out the prayer promises from each of the members (for example, five rosaries and two Masses) in a decorative font in blocks of four to a 8.5x11" sheet of paper. On the reverse side, I printed out images from the comprehensive J.W. Waterhouse site of ladies and girls gathering flowers. I rolled each piece of paper into a cone, and put them into a larger cone I made out of card stock. It took a little bit of fixing to get them to all stay inside nicely (I recommend pushing them down as far as possible) but with some care they made a nice-looking, if fragile, bouquet. I attached a ribbon to the cone with floral wire to finish.
Thanks to all of you who sent prayers and donations to the Girard family: I know they are so grateful. The funeral itself was moving, almost beyond words. I will be blogging about it on my Updates page.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Passing of a Young Knight

Marc Girard, 18, looked like your ordinary Catholic teenager. But he was not.

He had a Facebook page. He was a part of the Fairy Tale Novel Forum (even though, like most guys, he hadn't read the books :) ). He was careless about spelling. He hated having his picture taken. His avatar was a man making funny faces. To his four younger siblings and to most of his friends, I am sure he sometimes seemed very ordinary. Even though he took his Catholic faith seriously, and sometimes challenged his high school friends on different issues.

His friend Paul Ethier was surprised when Marc told him that he was planning to join the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, who had a friary near the Girard home in Griswold, CT. Marc was accepted as a postulant, and was going to join the Maine, NY friary in August.

The Girard family had been through a lot. Last year they suffered two hardships in a row: first, their home burned down. The only thing in Marc's room that survived the fire was his picture of Padre Pio.

The family lived on a trailer through the winter, but then this spring, the property was foreclosed.

Marc's father Thomas was working hard to keep the family together. In his free time he helped the Friars of the Immaculate on their outreachs: this past spring he was "Grand Master" knight for their group, The Knights of Lepanto, as Catholic fathers and the friars "initiated" their sons into Catholic knighthood. The photo at the top shows Marc carrying a "penance pack" of 15 pounds of rocks during the "intiation."

Thomas found a new house for the family, and they were going to move on the first day of July, yesterday, in fact.

The day before the big move, Thomas took his two sons, Marc and Lucas and daughter Hannah swimming at a pond down the street from their old house. There was an island a short distance from the shore, and they decided to swim out to the island.

Marc took his younger brother Lucas, 11, along and they swam safely to the island. Mr. Girard took their daughter Hannah, age 7, in his arms and came along behind them.

Hearing his sister Hannah screaming, Marc turned back and the boys saw her bobbing in the water. Their father was gone. Marc stopped several feet before reaching the island. He sent Lucas ahead and went back for his father and Hannah.

Marc swam out to Hannah. He pushed her towards shore until she was safe, told her to pray, and then dove back in to find their father.

He died trying to save him.

Rescue personnel speculate that Mr. Girard died of a heart attack suffered while swimming. Marc was brought to the hospital, barely alive. His mother Carol, some of his friends, and the Friars of the Immaculata prayed with him. He received the Annointing of the Sick and was blessed with a relic of St. Padre Pio. Then at 1:50 AM, on the Feast of the Precious Blood, he died.

It is terrifying how fast death can come. Earlier this past month, Marc was on the forum (screen name: The Illustrious Marceg) and on his blog, joking and laughing with his friends, running for "President" on the forum against Barak Obama and Mr. Darcy, and offering "words of wisdom" about following one's vocation:

Topic: Lord, what are You calling me to do? (Read 460 times) Illustrious Marceg
member is offline
Joined: Feb 2008
Gender: Male
Posts: 30 Re: Lord, what are You calling me to do?
Jun 19, 2008, 10:35am
I was so happy to find a thred wich focased on vocations. Just some words of wisdom, First, you are so right when you say long and short term vocation. Like being a good student was mine and being a good son, but now that I'm done with school. It's now to be a good son as well as a good friend. In August I will be leaving to enter the FI (Fransican Friars of the Immaculate) and am very excited about doing so. The thing is though, in my case, I'm almost poitive that this is Our Lords will for me, but as I grow closer and closer to the day i leave, I get spiritually attacked more and more (with emotions and worries such... I'm not talking about Emily Rose stuff ). I was warned by two very holy Friars about temptation and think it would be very helpful to everyone on this fourm especally for those who are looking into religious life. And that is that you will be tempted in ways you didn't think were possible, and if you do end up entering religious life it's still pretty hard. Its the transistion of being more contempt and 'unplugging' your self from the world. Many of the Saints went trough temptation and trial so just be prepaired and persivere. This also goes for those who are asking the question "what do you want from me". Satan will try to lead you against your vocation, just pray, hope, and don't worry and you'll end up doing His will.
Marc was ready to follow his call from God. But this week, he was called to be a hero. And he answered, without hesitation.

I am so sorry that Marc couldn't save his father, and that he couldn't save himself. But I am struck by his courage, and I will always remember him. Marc's friends were unanimous in calling him, immediately and from the start, a true knight.

I'm a novelist: I write modern adventures in which young adults carelessly tagged as "knights" and "ladies" battle modern demons and dragons. My friends and I play games and hold ceremonies similar to that of the Knights of the Lepanto: serious but always a bit tongue in cheek. We have to ask ourselves at some point: is any of it real? Are we really knights and ladies, or are we just moderns playing an odd game?

And then life overtakes us, and for a moment I recognize that for some of us at least, it is real. For Marc, it was real. He truly attained knighthood.

Just now I went on the Fairy Tale Forum and voted that Marc be elected president-forever of the Forum. Post mortem yes, but I think his qualifications are out of this world.

I love to write about young men who are heroes: it's one reason why I retell fairy tales. Marc Girard is a hero to me, a real knight of Our Lady and the Sacred Heart. I am so honored that he was part of our little online group and that our paths intersected for a short time.

Please pray for Carol Girard, and for the remaining children, Adam,17, Jaqueline, 15, Lucas, 11, and Hannah, 7. Pray especially for Lucas, who witnessed the entire tragedy.

As the Girard family has been under such financial stress, I can only imagine that this tragedy has left them even more at risk. I would like to ask the Christian community to consider helping them during this hard time. I know how much it helped our family when we suffered the loss of our son Joshua: please let this family know that they are not suffering alone.

Condolescences and donations can be sent to:
Carol Girard c/o the Ethier Family
133 Lake Shore Drive
Pascoag, Rhode Island

UPDATE: a fund has been set up for the Girards at the local Bank of America.
Bank of America
590 West Main St (Rt 82)
Norwich, CT 06360

Until I find out if they have a way to make donations online, I will continue to collect donations
through my PayPal account and send them to the Bank of America fund.

If you would like to make a donation through Paypal, you can send a donation to me at or use the button below. Attach a note or send an email to me saying that your donation is for the Girard family and specify the amount in your email. I will make sure it gets to them.

My husband and I attended the funeral at St. Mary's Church in Connecticut. It was beautiful. I hope to post more about it later.

For more about the Girard family, see this link from the Friars of the Immaculate.

UPDATE: Since some of you have asked, by all means feel free to copy or excerpt this post for your own blog or email.

St. Padre Pio, pray for us. The first martyrs of Rome, pray for us.

To donate to the Girard family via my paypal account, click below.