Friday, December 04, 2009

What Makes a Fitting Christmas Gift?

As I work to complete my Christmas shopping, I have been thinking over what makes a good Christmas gift. As I mentioned last year, we do three gifts per child (plus a stocking).  And to some extent, I try to do as my friend Montse does: one toy, one book, one piece of clothing.  But I give some leeway: I tend to get two toys for the boys instead of clothing, unless it's really cool clothing, like a hobbit cloak. (More on that later...)  But beyond these parameters (and readers of this page know how much I delight in parameters), what other qualities transform something from a bargain piece of clothing to a bit of magic in a box known as a Christmas gift?  Along with my ruminations, I'll include links to some gifts our family has enjoyed in the past, to share the joy with you.

Weightiness.  The first virtue of a gift, for me, is its quality: it must please the eye and hand, and that generally means quality.  For some reason, I can't find myself shopping for Christmas gifts at the dollar store, though sometimes I've gathered stocking stuffers there. Real things such as wood and wool satisfy the quality of weightiness. The present must feel substantial, even if the object itself is small.  It should have craftsmanship that shows up in being handmade, by myself or by a fairly-paid craftsman.  I admit, one reason I buy fewer gifts is to ensure I have enough money to be able to afford to give each child at least one thing that is truly lovely.  As you know, Nova Natural is one of the places I turn to for fine craftsmanship.  This year I bought my young son their handmade interlocking blocks, and my toddler their rainbow rings.  Small packages, but oh so satisfying to wrap. And we love to give good hardcover fairytales with beautiful illustrations, like this one we discovered last year.

Pretty.  Listening to the book on CD of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, I realize that this word was once used to apply to everything from horse carriages to books to gloves, without the feminine connotation the word has today.  There should be a zest and a bit of a sparkle to a Christmas gift.  It can't be simply ordinary: it must be cunning or bright or handsome.  These are gifts we tell our children baby Jesus has picked out for them, and surely He would pick something that would shine.  The patchwork dresses above were $5 on clearance, but their sweet floral embroidery and matching purses upgraded them to the status of Christmas presents for toddler girls who still get excited about the very idea of pockets.  The paint set was a similar bargain at Michael's craft store: what sets it apart is the sheer multitude of colors: every color of the rainbow a dedicated artist could desire (and since we've bought this item in the past, I can swear that these colors don't dissolve like sugar after one or two uses). 

Rare. A Christmas gift should also have an element of the rare, the unique. eBay is my favorite trove for unearthing such treasure. I remember well the year I bought my husband a medieval Polish coin from a dealer in Israel, and a handcarved wooden horse from a woodcarver in Poland.  Now Etsy showcases unique handwork as well, though without eBay's wonderful atmosphere of an International garage sale. This year I bought quilt squares from Great Britain, and last year I was able to buy embroidered boutique dresses there at half-price as last year's styles were sifted away. Vintage clothing yields some good finds too.

Various. There is a wonderful variety in gold, frankincense, and myrrh. While they are all kingly gifts, their variety isn't predictible.  So should it be with a good Christmas gift. With only three gifts, I try to ensure that each gift is a very different sort of gift from the others. For example, suppose you give your child nothing but three books?  He has no choice but to read, and somehow this seems too narrow, not spacious and adventurous. It also runs the risk of failing to please the giver. So even if your family member requests nothing but books, or nothing but Legos, try to introduce an element of pleasing variety. Thus I try to give gifts that allow an active child has a choice of activities. He could run outside and play with a new slingshot, or he could curl up and read a book, or he could sit in his room and make paper airplanes

Surprising. What is our God if not surprising?  A babe in a manger was certainly not the sort of King we would have expected, and a fitting Christmas gift should have an element of the unexpected. What fun it is to try to surprise the person with something they wanted, but in a way they didn't expect? (Hopefully better!)  I noticed my husband struggling to fit logs into a tiny woodbox, and then found a more accomodating wood rack last Christmas. My son wanted to make his sister a toy barn.  We did, but I surprised him by including a set of wonderful wooden farm animals inside the box (which came at a surprisingly reasonable price!).

This is by no means an exhaustive list!  I hope you enjoy the links and the reflections, and I wish you well in your hunt for Christmas presents.  May it transmit to you some of the joy that God Himeslf felt as He prepared His Christmas gift for the world. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Christmas Presents 2009: Evi Dressable Dolls!

It is with great pleasure that I announce that my favorite dollhouse dolls in the entire world, Nova Natural's Evi dolls, are now available as dressable dolls!

For years my children have been playing with these dolls, made of wool and cotton by a fair-trade labor cooperative, which are available in various fairy-tale characters, including knights and princesses. But my girls kept trying to change the clothes on the dolls, which are sewn on the bodies. I asked Nova Natural if they would consider carrying dressable dolls, and this Christmas season, they have them at last!

Click here to see pictures of their dollhouse family which come with removeable modern clothing. I ordered the father and mother dolls, and I decided to surprise my middle daughter this Christmas by dressing up these dolls as Paul Fester and Rachel Durham from my Fairy Tale Novel The Midnight Dancers!

(A caveat: The Midnight Dancers is "PG" (parental guidance suggested), but my husband read it aloud to my ten-year old (with judicious edits).) My oldest daughter is in on the secret, and she helped sew some of the clothes. In the photo above, the doll Rachel leaves aside her apron for the glamorous dancing dress she's created, while juggler Paul Fester (played by the father doll) tries to reason with her.

And here we have Paul instructing Rachel's younger sisters Linette and Debbie (played by the Nova Natural boy and girl dollhouse doll) in the fine art of juggling.

Hopefully we'll finish more outfits before Christmas! Now that the Evi dolls are dressable, I see myriads of possibilities: I've started making dress patterns for princess dresses for them. If you buy an Evi Doll and want to have a look at my pattern, email me and let me know!

So if you are looking for a natural and modest alternative to a Barbie doll or Polly Pocket that respects the innocence of children, I highly recommend the new dressable Evi dolls. With a little bit of sewing, you can make them into princes, princesses, fairies, Our Lady of Guadalupe, the saints -- the options are limited only by your imagination. Check them out here!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Music for a Fall Evening

For excellent fiddling, I highly recommend this CD by our friends, The Woodhouse Band.  I've posted about them before: their music has enlivened quite a few of our house parties with the flawlessly executed yet homespun sounds of fiddle, banjo, and guitar.  During the chilly days of late fall, set this music spinning on your CD player, and soon your children will be Irish-jigging and twirling around the room!  A better cure for winter cabin fever you won't find.

The Woodhouse Band is Michael Randolph and his five children, each of whom are talented string musicians.  Michael has carefully crafted this CD over the years, and their first recording is an excellent display of their gifts.   Repeated playings hasn't dulled my enthusiasm for this little CD.  For a "homemade" Christmas gift from a Catholic home, consider The Woodhouse Band.  Available locally in Front Royal or downloadable from CDBaby.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Learning Land Forms

While I'm sharing about activities that reside on top of my refridgerator, I thought share about another favorite educational activity: clay land forms. Years ago I made a set with clay and disposable plastic containers. But this fall, I acquired this sweet little set from Michael Olaf Montessori: earth-toned waterproof clay and eight little pie pans are matched with cards so that little students can see that an island is land with water all around it, and a lake is land with water all around it.  I keep the materials in a storage bin with a washcloth and tiny water pitcher.

The child can mold islands, pennisulas, and isthmuses of any shape she chooses, and then pour a little bit of water into the wee pie pan to see the relationship between land and water.  The earth-toned plasticine clay is superior to salt dough in that it sheds water easily and never dries out.  And the matched black pie pans are sturdy beneath the pushing and poking of child fists.  After years of making do with my own homemade materials, I'm very pleased with this set, which has a modest price tag for its beauty: $22 for pans and clay.  The rather comprehensive card set is only $8 additional: it will last beyond the preschool years well into grade school.  It's a wonderful preschool introduction to Classical Conversation's geography program.

So if you're looking for an additional activity for your little one, consider this set. It's a simple, straightfoward way to demonstrate what a strait is!  (Forgive the triple pun.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Painless Painting

Ever since I visited a Montessori classroom, I have been using this method to enable my small children to paint pictures as often as possible with as little trouble for me, and without a permanently messy table or corner.  I keep individual colors of watercolor paint, cut-up rectangles of paper, a small brush and a bottle cap on a small tray on top of the refridgerator. When my children need something to do, I take it down and let them paint.  The key to low mess is keeping the amounts of paint and water small.  Like the Montessori teacher suggested, I cut up plastic strips of watercolors from the store into individual colors so that small children can focus on one task: using the brush correctly.  I show them how to 'tickle' the paint gently with the brush with the very end of the bristles in order to make a painting. 

Older children can have more colors so that they can experiment with mixing colors (what do yellow and blue make when you put them together?) or with creating their own masterpieces.  The tiny bottle cap of water ensures that there's not much mess to clean up, and the small paintings don't take up much space on the table for drying or on the wall for displaying.

Random Moments of Beauty: Friend's Porch

We just visited a friend on our way home while on a trip, and I couldn't resist capturing this beautiful view of the autumn colors.  It strikes me how welcoming it is to have a chair or two on your front porch, inviting friends to sit and talk.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Random Moment of Beauty: Eggs

Just a few chicken eggs collected by my daughter from our chicken, in a bowl made in pottery class by another daughter. I love the combination of greens and browns with the purity of white, so restful. And I also love how home-grown eggs can be different sizes. Just a snippet of our daily life around Shirefeld.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Flowers for the Resurrection

Our family was recently saddened by a miscarriage. The baby was only about a month or so along, but of course, it was still sad. Fortunately, we have been supported by so many friends. Today I was amazed to receive this beautiful flower bouquet from a group of friends, so lovely that I had to display it on my dresser and post a picture. The delicate pink roses remind me of the new life so recently lost, but the butterfly on the top brings to mind the eternal life where we will hopefully someday meet again. We christened the little baby Timothy, and it is comforting to think that he is with Joshua and the other baby we miscarried, Ann. Many thanks to all of you who prayed for us and grieved with us. When even a miscarriage is memorialized in such a kind manner, it makes sorrow easier to bear. Thank you.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Girl Dresses out of a Woman's Skirt

When we were preparing for a family wedding in July, I was doing a lot of sewing for my girls, and came across this pretty rayon-wool one-button-on-the-pocket gathered skirt in a thrift store. I decided to cut it into a skirt for my youngest girl. I cut the gathered waistband off the skirt at the correct length for a little-girl skirt but wasn't sure what to do with the beautifully-patterned bottom of the skirt, so I put it aside.

Next I had to cut the gathered waistband to the correct width for my toddler girl's tummy. I decided to cut it off at the pocket so that she could have a pocket in her skirt. (Note: I wouldn't do this again: the pocket's really too large for her to really use!) When I was finished, I had one width of skirt about 8" across. Not sure what to do with it, I decided to fold it in half to see if I could make a bodice for a dress. Here it is below. Notice that the gathered top is so much more narrow than the full bottom. (Click on any photo to see the details.)
So, taking a gamble, I decided to see if having a narrow front piece and a wide back could make a succesful bodice. I narrowly hemed the sides of the skirt piece and joined them together at the bottom, leaving ample armholes. Then I carefully cut and hemmed a neckline with a keyhole snap closure at the back. It seemed to fit my daughter, so I reattached the lower part of the original skirt to make the bottom of the dress. It worked like a charm.
Though my original project of a toddler skirt: wasn't as successful (the toddler is wearing it in the boat picture in the post below: click on the photo to see it up close), the toddler dress was a dream! Another thrilling episode in the ongoing adventure of converting adult clothing to child-size wearables!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Picnic Table=Boat!

Autumn breezes swept over our land this morning, scattering leaves from trees and pulling our younger children away from homeschool to the outdoors. And I, trusting nature to be a wise educator of her own, let them go. Among their adventuring, they overturned our picnic table, and we realized (perhaps due to our nightly sojourns with the Horatio Hornblower movies) how much it resembled a boat. In short order I had temporarily erected a wooden pole as a mast, a sail was procured, and the children set sail across a sea of leaf-strewn lawn.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Special Hands Jewelry

Above is a picture of my new favorite earrings, which I bought from a very neat jewelry-maker, Susan Myers. I met Susan when she lived in Front Royal, Virginia. Despite a birth defect that left her with hands half the size of a normal person's, she creates beautiful jewelry with only five fingers. Recently, Susan began a website to sell her creations online, and I'd like to help her spread the word. As she mentions on her website, she can customize almost any design: I asked her for a pair of these red heart earrings, and she made a pair just for me. Check out and if you like what you see, pass on the link to your friends!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Little Saints of Summer

Happy Birthday Blessed Mother! I thought I would honor her on her birthday by belatedly posting about new saint images by Sophie Cayless. Among the Little Saints of the Summer she has painted are St. Maximiliain Kolbe, who had a great devotion to Our Lady. She also has images of St. Clare, St. Rose of Lima, and St. John Vianney that can be bought as greeting cards or put on t-shirts. Stay tuned for the Little Saints of Fall, which should be coming soon!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Favorite Things: Original Catholic Art

For many years, one source of despondency for me has been the plethora of shoddy Catholic statues. While prints of the Old Masters are always there to liven my devotional life, it saddens me to pray before a statue of Mary with features more reminiscent of Barbie than Our Lady. And it seems that every Catholic store stocks the same cookie-cutter pieces: even faint originality can only be had for a price over a hundred dollars! As a patron of Catholic artists, I yearn for original beauty in three dimensions: alas, it seems so difficult to find.

It was with wonder and delight that I discovered Fatima Statues and the Duke Tran family at the Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show this year. This Vietnamese family has made it their mission to craft hand-carved statues of Christ, Our Lady, and St. Joseph from hardened driftwood. Their craftsmanship is exquisite, and their price is amazingly affordable. I paid a mere $32 for this 8" statue of the Mother and Child. (A similar one is available on their website, #29 on the list.) Larger statues are to be had for a larger price, but even a foot-high piece such as this Holy Family is priced at only $92.00. Since each piece is unique and one of a kind, some are out of stock, yet the photos capture the scope of this family's skill. And I love how the artist uses the curves and beauty of found wood as an inspiration. Truly unique, truly a work of love: a long quest for me has ended with the discovery of a treasure I am happy to share.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Joshua Cake

I meant to post this picture back in July on Joshua's birthday, but alas, computer problems intervened, which have only now been rectified. On my son's birthday, my friend Anna brought over a bouquet of wildflowers and this lovely cake decorated by her little girl Angelica with strawberries and paper symbols of the Resurrection: eggs and butterflies and birds and a lovely cross. It was a sweet remembrance of my son, and a wonderful way to celebrate his third birthday in Heaven. Thank you so much, Anna!

Many times people are unsure of what to do for a friend who is grieving the loss of a child or loved one. But often a simple gift or card as a token of remembrance on an anniversary or holiday brings so much comfort. Let your friend know that you remember her sorrow, and are grieving with her. A little can do so much.

If you are looking for ways to comfort those who grieve, consider this list of kind things that people did for us after Joshua died, which helped us. Peace to your day.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Joshua Michael, 2001-2006

Three years ago today, my little son Joshua left this world for the next one. I still miss him so much.

I was moved when my brother and sister mailed me these photos of Joshua's baptism, taken by a relative during a time when I didn't own a camera. It was a gift to remember that day.

Thank you so much for your prayers.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Favorite Things: Red and White China

My hobby is collecting china, specifically "restaurantware," plates and cups of a sturdier build used to the bang and clatter of daily use in a restaurant. I love these hefty cups: they rarely break, even when dropped, and barely chip. And I love the vintage patterns of red stripe or green stripe. So I was doubly delighted to discover these coffee cups with red chintz patterns on them! They match beautifully with a red and white set of plates and saucers I already owned (this is why I only collect in a few colors!). So I've been enjoying this sprightly addition to my pantry this summer.

Monday, June 29, 2009

June: The Sacred Heart Altar

Since our May Mary altar turned out so wonderfully, I could not resist making a Sacred Heart altar for June. Although this is not my favorite picture of Our Lord's Sacred Heart, I have a sentimental attachment to it, since it was given to our family by our late former pastor, Father Bill Ruhl, when we first moved to Front Royal and consecrated our family home to the Sacred Heart. It seemed only fitting to have our "family statues" all present on the altar this month, along with mulberry branches and trailing vines. "I am the Vine: you are the branches," He tells us. "Remain in Me and you will bear much fruit, fruit that will last." May God bless you and your family this month!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Rediscovering Ferber

Ironically, as a novelist, I rarely read fiction any more. I'm not sure why. I know I find it hard to read fiction and write fiction at the same time. Perhaps I'm turning into my father, who has a voracious appetite for books on history, theology, psychology, sociology, and politics, but rarely samples fiction. When I was young, I read every story I could get my hands on. Now my bedside table has a history of the American Revolution, a book of essays on culture, Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI, and other nonfiction. But this summer, it now features the novels of Edna Ferber.

I came to Ferber late towards the end of my fiction-reading period, and I don't rightly know when I first read SoBig. Early in my marriage, I had a copy that looks exactly like this one pictured above: who knows where I found it? I have a taste for old books, regardless of their contents, and I started this one, and was hooked on Ferber's lush writing style and her portraits of humanity, nearly always compassionate ones. Alas, my copy was loaned to a friend and lost, and I quietly mourned it and stopped reading fiction.

Then, this past April, I had the fortune to visit Minnesota for a booksigning for fans of my Fairy Tale Novels, and stayed overnight with two girls who are biliophiles. The bedroom where we stayed was stocked with the most wonderful selection of books, and the next morning, I complimented our hostess on her collection. "I actually have had to thin out my collection, since I'm getting married," she replied, and added, "Would you like to see some books I'm getting rid of?"

Atop the pile was a copy of Sobig, together with Ferber's other noted novels, Cimarron and Big. I seized the first with a cry of joy, and my hostess was delighted to restore to me what had so long been lost, as well as giving me further Ferber treasures to enjoy.

So this past summer I have been partaking of Ferber again, with all the delight of eating fine chocolate. Big took me to the vast ranches of Texas, and in Cimarron I'm experiencing the Oklahoma Land Rush and the hardships of the first settlements. It's been a rare foray back into fiction for me, and, oddly enough, has not yet competed with the new novel I'm writing. Indeed, as I type my story of hotels and computer hackers in Northern Virginia, I can't help thinking that my hero is taking on some aspects of the debonair cowboy Yancey Cravat from Cimarron. But perhaps that's not so terrible after all.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Runner Ducks

In our ongoing saga of creating Shirefeld Farm, we bought runner ducks earlier this spring in shades of black, brown, blue, and fawn. This is my first close acquaintence with ducks, and I have to admit I never realized quite how funny they are! A flock of ducks has achieved the closest thing to a "mind meld" I have yet seen: the flock acts as one: eating, swimming, marching, running -- and my, see how they run! For days my toddlers liked nothing better than to chase them around and around the play yard where the ducks were ensconced -- no matter how we tried to dissuade the children. The fact is, ducks are funny, and even funnier when they run, quacking, in an orderly mob that scurries and swerves in unison. Now they have found a quieter existence at our pond: where they rule the pool with dictatorial unity. Yet another proof (if we needed it) that God has a sense of humor.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Shrines by Mary Billingsley

For years I've been a fan of Mary Billingsley's paintings of little shrines, but I only discovered that I could share her art through her website recently. Mary creates shrines in honor of our Lord using materials a child would find: dolls, small toys, flowers from the field, postcards, household odds and ends, found objects. Once she has built and decorated a shrine in her studio, she sits down and paints it in lovely watercolor gouache. Years ago I visited her New England studio and witnessed this loving and reverent work in process. Above is one of my favorite shrines, which I post in honor of Our Lord's Ascension.
I found out that at long last a publisher has agreed to be publishing a collection of her shrines in honor of the Rosary: please consult her site for details. In the meantime, gather your children and visit some very special shrines: perhaps they will be inspired to create some of their own.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

May Crowning Procession

On Mother's Day we celebrated with a family May procession to crown our outdoor statue of Mary. We were blessed to have the Hatkes join us for our annual event. While my son was willing to pose with the crown for a photo, he gladly relegated the carrying of the crown to his younger sister, ceremonially dressed in her favorite white Joan of Arc cape, while he proudly carried the prayer book and holy water. I am so glad our domestic priest, my husband, insists on performing these little acts of love for our Lady in the home.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

May Mary Altar

In honor of the Blessed Mother's month, my husband created a Mary altar just before Mother's Day, and I spent a happy hour layering an end table with vintage linen and arranging Willow Tree children and pottery animals around my favorite picture of our Lady. But the best part was a long sojourn in the fields with my toddler where we gathered handfuls of buttercups and wildflowers and arranged them in vintage glass bottles. Our small efforts produced a loveliness that even the toddlers in the house have respected (thus far!).

Friday, May 01, 2009

The Ring -- A Poem and Song

I am truly excited to announce that my younger sister Alicia Hernon has finally produced her own solo CD. To read the extensive review/rave on my "updates" blog, click here. But I wanted to share with you the lyrics of the third track on the album, a duet for engaged couples, which Alicia sung with my brother Martin.
This song is based on a poem I wrote of the same name when I was in college, where I spent many hours writing poetry. Shortly after I wrote it, Alicia set my lyrics to music, making it a far more beautiful creation than it was originally, and she sang it for my grandparent's golden jubilee. This is one of the few songs that currently doesn't have a sample track on Alicia's website, but perhaps Alicia will post it soon. Here are the lyrics of the original poem, which don't quite capture the intricate interplay of harmonizing and voices that you will hear on the CD:

The Ring
My sister, I ask you in this hour
Unfolding with the morning flower,
to stand with me and make a vow.
No more shall you be freedom's slave
but since your life you freely gave,
take servanthood in freedom now.
The ring, the round of eternity,
I place on your hand, I give to thee,
a symbol of your love for me.

A promise drawn out through fire and sand
Now gleams in silver on your hand
Eternity that enshrines your finger,
I stand to be yours as life is long:
clasp my hand, and be my singer.
Draw near to me and be my song.
The ring, surpassing old and new,
clings to your hand just as I do:
a symbol of my love for you.
copyright 1991, Regina Doman.
I hope you enjoy this poem. It was a gift that I am happy to share with others, and I'm delighted that Alicia, with her lovely voice and music, is able to share it with so many others.
All profits from Alicia's album will be donated to pro-life causes. To learn more about the album Beloved, click here.

Monday, April 06, 2009


My husband decided that the recent stock market plunge was an optimum occasion to use the knowledge of farm animals he gained by growing up on a pig farm, and to begin our conversion from "Haus Shirefeld" to "Shirefeld Farm." So we cashed in on what was left of one family savings fund, and, as my husband put it, "sold our stock to invest in livestock." With the money, we bought baby chicks, ducks, and a formidible two-hundred-pound pig, whose ultimate destination will be our deep freezer.

Suburban Girl that I am, I was mostly unaquainted with live pigs (though I am very familiar with my favorite food, sausage), and I was amazed when the first thing our hog did once he came out of the livestock trailer and into his pen was to start rooting up the ground with vigor. Within 48 hours, he had reduced his 16-x16ft grass pen to nicely-tilled soil. Since we had struggled to rotatill a garden on the other side of the property earlier, our kids were quite impressed, and named him "Mr. Tiller."

It didn't take long for my husband to plot out a new, larger garden near Mr. Tiller's pen, and last week, we moved him to a new grassy spot, and he joyously began to till again. I saw echoes of Eden in his energetic activity: of the time when beasts and unfallen man worked together in harmony. It was yet another reminder not to take the food we need to live for granted: being nose-to-snout with the animal we will one day eat forces us to realize we live at the cost of a life-sacrifice, whether that life comes from a farm factory far away, or from our back yard.
May we always be truly grateful.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I Love My Washing Machine!

I really do! And I love my laundry room, where I retreat almost daily to spot-clean clothes and clean out the lint trap. But until I read this book above, I hadn't realized the spiritual possibilities of making the laundry room a prayer closet. Barbara Curtis, mother of 12 and a recent revert to her childhood Catholic faith, details how to find spiritual solace in the most mundane of chores. On her blog she reflects:

I feel it's part of the rhythm of my life - almost as unchanging and dependable as God. It's a service I render to the people I love, thinking of it as a small reflection of Jesus washing his disciples' feet. more

Her book is wonderful Lenten reading. So it was natural for Barbara to stride into the fray when furor arose when the Vatican newspaper remarked on International Women's Day that the washing machine had done more to liberate women than the birth control pill. She has posted her own comments praising washing machines on her blog, along with some revealing and fun pictures and a poll. Enjoy, and if you agree, consider passing on the poll.

Once when I was rhapsodizing about the joys of the simpler life, a woman friend who had homesteaded for several years without electricity said, "I will never go back to living without a washing machine. It takes all day to do laundry without one." I said, "What did you do, then?" She thought and said simply, "You get used to living with less clean things and more dirt."

So reconsider the beauty of the humble washing machine: I think Mother Church is showing wisdom, as usual. What we take for granted. I pray my children live to see women in every part of the world gain washing machines of their own.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Little Saints of Spring

For years, I've enjoyed the artwork of my friend Sophie Cayless, a Catholic nature artist with a love for the childlike spirit. I'm pleased to announce that Sophie has turned some of her charming images of Little Saints of Spring into cards and t-shirts: the perfect gift for Easter! Saints thus far included are St. Patrick, St. Bernadette, St. Joseph, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Isidore the Farmer, and St. David. I hope she'll do more! Please check out her gallery at!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

House Update: Schoolroom finished!

Slowly but surely we are starting to finish rooms in the addition of our house. I am delighted to
be able to announce that our school room/meeting room/den is "mostly finished!" We still need to install one more door, and I would like to put curtains on the window (alas, the Briarwood curtains I won on ebay never arrived from England -- the first time an international purchase has gone tragically wrong on me. I keep praying they'll show up unexpectedly, but it's been since August...!) but for now, the room is done!
I am much indebted to the girls who attended the Fairy Tale Novel Fan Gathering 08 at my home. One of them had the idea of transforming the landscapes I had planned to put around the room into vistas of Middle Earth. So now Hobbiton (which I painted) resides over the blackboard...

And Minas Tirith, Edoras, and Orthanc's tower are dimly visible above the armoire. On the very top photo, you can catch a glimpse of Rivendell. Someday I'll have to get a ladder and flash and go around and get better pictures of all of these, for the sake of the girls who painted them. By the way, the matching doors came from our handyman, who scavenged them here and there for us: I can't believe he managed to find *two* doors with large windows in them! The solid door I bought for a song at Habitat for Humanity. And my dear husband created the blackboard for me with trim and paint.

I'm also indebted to our family friend John Robinson, who owns a carpet business and has kept my parents and siblings and I well stocked with carpet extras whenever we need them. I was delighted when he gave me these industrial carpet tiles, leftovers from a grade school library. They were easy to install, and I love their bright patterns. I've been in love with industrial carpet ever since I was a janitor in college and had to vacuum every day: while I might dream of Oriental rugs, I love living with the short, tough tight weave of commercial carpeting. Thanks so much, John!
So at long last I have my meeting room. Two weeks ago, I had a chance to use it to host our John Paul 2 High meeting (Book Two: Trespasses Against Us is coming out at last! Hooray!). It was so nice to have a blackboard and bulletin board to help keep track of plot points. And yes, I've used it for homeschooling (occasionally!) as well. Three rooms down --six to go!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Fasting from Spring Clothes

I had great intentions of posting this last week as we were preparing for Lent, but alas, life intervened again. I wanted to share one of our Lenten traditions that has become an almost natural part of our lives now: the annual clothing fast. My sister developed this concept in high school, when she would pare herself down to a basic wardrobe during Lent to help detach herself from the fashions she loved. I used to try to do it myself by wearing an all-black or black-and-purple liturgical wardrobe during the penetential season. As fun as this was, it was difficult to maintain, especially as our family grew. But now I've hit on an even simpler way to observe the season: we simply put off changing over into summer clothing until after Easter. Our winter wardrobes are naturally filled with duller colors, and of course we're all tired of wearing them once the weather lightens up. But when we delay, Easter season is commemorated in a real, tangible way for our family. So if you haven't yet pulled out the t-shirts and pastels, consider holding off until after the Resurrection!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Christmas Playstands

Before Lent takes us further from the Christmas season, I wanted to share this picture of our playroom and extend again a warm "thank you!" to those of you who bought playstands from my brother-in-law Michael Schmiedicke this past Christmas. Mike is still making playstands and other beautiful and durable items from salvaged barn wood. I hope to start a series on some of the unique and clever storage he's made for their small split-level home. If you need a custom storage piece for your shoes, toys, or other items, consider asking Mike to make it for you. Here's the link to his Etsy store again.

Friday, February 13, 2009

New Website: How Do You Mate Socks?

If you've ever wondered how a big family gets all their socks mated, please check out this new site by the frolicsome and fun Parente family. Liz and Doug and their gang o'kids are friends of ours, and they've decided to share their experience and garner ideas on how large families can save money and time. I read their "50 + ways to save money" and learned some things! Feel free to check out How do you mate socks?

Updated: Our local paper, the Northern Virginia Daily did an interview with the Parentes including wonderful family pictures. I love their laundry room! Click here to read the article.

Photo courtesy of WhitKnits, a cool knitting blog I discovered while looking for sock photos.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Beautiful Order

I enjoyed this post by new blogger Sarah on "Beautiful Order." After spending a snowy day organizing all her children's toys, she discovered how "transient" such beauty is! But as she writes,

Well, there is a point in organizing our homes, in teaching our children about order and trying to make our homes beautiful. These things teach our children, and remind ourselves, that God created the world and all things in it in an orderly fashion, and He continues to create things of pure beauty all around us. We can honor and glorify Him by creating and ordering in our homes, which He has given us to care for. These lessons give us hope and encouragement during those times when everything is a mess and we slowly begin to bring order out of the chaos. These lessons will bless our children not only now but in their future vocations, whatever they may be. For these lessons will help them grow in understanding and appreciation for God's desire for order and beauty, and their mom's steadfast quest to follow His will.

Be encouraged!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Theology for Infants

A long time ago I promised to post on this and never did: my apologies for the delay.
Ever since I learned about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, I have been fascinated by the task of teaching very young children about God. I received training in this method to catechize children aged 3-6 some years ago, and although I haven't taught in an Atrium in years, knowing the method continues to illuminate my thinking in this area. I have also thought a lot about pre-catechesis: what I can I do with my own child to prepare them to learn about God?
The most foundational thing I can do is to teach my children about God and His love. The first message must be: God loves you! I start doing this as soon as possible. Whenever we are in church, I whisper in my baby's ear: we're in God's house! He loves you! During the Eucharist, at the moment of consecration, if I am holding my baby, I whisper, Jesus is here: He loves you!
If a child can know that his parent loves him, can't he begin to know that God loves him as well? I think so, for as I told this over and over again to each of my infant children, over time I would see them start to listen and respond: first with just looking, and then slowly, with smiles, almost as though they saw something of God that I myself could not see...
The most important thing to teach my child remains the most important thing of all in the end: for we never get beyond the love of God. For teaching religion is not merely the passing on of doctrine, but an invitation to a relationship: to prayer, to searching, to receiving, to loving. And it all begins and ends with love.

Photo from Jessica Sheguit

Christmas Nativity 2008

Since I neglected to do this earlier, I wanted to post several pictures of this year's dressertop Nativity, which I think turned out unusually fine. One daughter had painstakingly made tiny snowflakes of paper and sprinkled them with glitter. I used them in the Nativity with old lace, bottlebrush trees, pearls, and vintage cardboard houses, together with topiaries made of dried hydrangeas and Spanish moss. Maybe the topiaries weren't the same scale or season as the evergreens, but both are among my favorite things... On the bookshelf, even my jewelry tree looked festive with bird ornaments and white and silver jewelry. I admit I love little things!

A Blessed Little Christmas season to you!