Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Brunch 2010

One of the highlights of every Christmas morning is brunch, cooked by my husband. After returning from Mass, he slices potatoes into tiny chunks and fries them to a delectable golden brown, then serves them with thickly-sliced mushrooms and onions, a dish we term "Narnian Home Fries" because it reminds us of Shasta's breakfast with the dwarves in The Horse and His Boy. Sausage and Portugese salilio bread completed the brunch, along with the necessity of tea. My eldest daughter cooked a Yule log cake and garnished it with meringue mushrooms, a confection she's been perfecting, aided by our family's recent acquisition of a stand-up Kitchen Aid mixer.
My Christmas breakfast duty is setting the table, which I always do the night before. This year I decorated our large wooden lazy susan with boxwood branches, silk white roses, wooden hearts, and red ribbon to make a impromtu Christmas tree as the centerpiece. A stroke of luck gifted us with two red-and-white checked twin sheets which together created a covering for our massive table. A brown runner and a length of ribbon completed the ensemble. Silver serving dishes, plain white plates, and embroidered napkins from my favorite antique store were complemented by our everyday teacups and Sunday silverware. Mixing old and new to create holiday centerpieces is one of my favorite parts of Christmas day, and I confess I look forward to that as much as I look forward to my husband's homefries. May God bless you this Christmas season!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

St. Lucy's Day

Here's the centerpiece my daughter made for this year's St. Lucy's Day celebration. The little doll is from Magic Cabin Dolls, and the little trees I got at clearance at WalMart. Our children love this celebration, which we celebrate with monkey cake, whose little chunks my daughter observed, could look like eyeballs.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Baby Bene!

I realized that in the scuffle of the past two months, I never posted a photo of our latest one, Benedict (nicknamed Bene). Born on Oct. 21, 2010, a very wonderful baby. God is good indeed!

Bene's Baptism Cake

My oldest daughter continues to be creative with her cakes. Here is the cake she made and decorated for our newest baby's baptism, complete with blue lollipop on top.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Butchering the Ramb

This past year, our family began raising American Blackbelly Hair Sheep for meat. A few weeks ago, we butchered our two oldest males, one ram and one who, because of his youth, we dubbed the "ramb." Unlike our pig butchering, where we had experienced help, Andrew and I tackled this task ourselves, armed with the help of the The Homesteader's Handbook to Raising Small Livestock and Cutting Up In the Kitchen. It was much less intimidating than the pig, and we managed to do both in two days. But from the pig butchering, we learned that some unconventional tools such as tree pruning sheers and a reciprocating saw are more useful in some cases than butchering knives and cleavers.

After watching their dad carve up loins and chops, the older children wanted to help. So Andrew set them to work cutting up some of the smaller bits for stew. That evening I tossed some of the chunks with seasoned flour and roasted them 325 degrees in the oven. The family concluded that "ramb nuggets" were a delectable treat, especially on a fall evening!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

New Teapot and Cup

One of the nicest parts of collecting everyday china is that your acquisitions break so frequently that clutter is not a lasting problem, particularly when you have children.

Since our last teapot was chipped on the spout, I purchased this new one at a flea market which looks so appropriate to the fall. Also I wanted to show off my latest addition to my restaurantware collection of red and white: this floral pattern is so unusual! I've claimed it as my morning teacup.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Behold the Table!

My husband arranged with his brother that he would raise a pig for him in exchange for a new dining room table, and my brother-in-law agreed. The table was delivered today, and what a massive table it is! Made of reclaimed poplar with antique barn beams, it's an original design of my brother-in-law's. Some of you are familiar with his etsy store, Strong Oaks Woodshop, which also makes Waldorf playstands. Since we're expecting our eighth child in October, this large table is a timely addition to our house: we were really starting to crowd one another at the supper table. And my husband, like many men, couldn't stand it when all the dishes "jumped" whenever someone bumped our old table. But this slab-and-beam is truly more to his masculine taste: it won't be so easily shifted.

I don't know what my brother-in-law will name this design, but something along the lines of "A Man's Table" might be appropriate. If you're interested in a table of this style, feel free to contact Strong Oaks for pricing and customization.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Queenship of Mary Procession

Last weekend, we had two neighbor families over on Sunday afternoon for a little ceremony in honor of Our Lady. Since the Queenship of Mary is my feast day, and it seems that family processions are becoming more regular in our lives, I finally decided to buckle down and make some banners (from in honor of Our Lady. My children drew large Marian symbols on scrap paper with black permanent marker: a lilly, a crown with stars, the Holy Spirit, the Immaculate Heart. Then I placed each one under a banner and traced the design with silver fabric paint. Next I carefully dropped diluted fabric dye onto the banners, which spreads until (hopefully) it meets the resistance of the paint, creating an almost stained-glass look. We hung our banners on branches for the children to carry. Others carried flowers, and one little girl carried a small crown of flowers on a sofa pillow. Our hymn to the Queen might have been off-key, but the procession was lovely. We trailed our way to our little shrine of statues, crowned our Lady, and prayed a decade of her Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, then returned to the house for angel-food cake and iced tea for the children, and beer for the adults. Our Lady, pray for us!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Neighbor's Garden

Our neighbor's house is like ours used to be: a rambling old house with multiple shed additions. It's not in the best shape. But I love their ample garden. It looks to me like the garden Peter Rabbit might have stolen into.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Summer Evening Walk

We decided to deliver a basket of fresh peaches to our neighbors, the Hatkes, so the little girls got into the jogging stroller, and their older brother chivalrously volunteered to be their chauffer. We live on a relatively quiet gravel road near rarely-used railroad tracks, so it was a peaceful walk. Thank God for the beauty of a quiet evening.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pruning the Peach Tree

This past fall my husband pruned the vines encircling one ancient peach tree with only two branches left: and the effort reaped dividends as peaches came forth in abundance these past few weeks! We picked several baskets full.

Monday, July 12, 2010

After the Pigs...

Earlier in the year, Anna and Ben raised pigs with us, and for about two weeks, they had the two young pigs fenced in a square of their lawn: as pigs do, they rooted and manured the ground, turning it up better than any rototiller for a garden. Here's that same square some six months later, bursting with fertility. Anna carefully planned out her garden in small raised beds with a path round a central bed of herbs. My friend is a good gardener indeed!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Joshua's Anniversary

Joshua Michael
July 26, 2001-July 8, 2006

Miss him so much.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Anna's Entranceway Garden

I was charmed when I stopped by my neighbor Anna's house and saw how the flower garden next to her toolshed is flourishing. Since the toolshed is right next to the main entrance to her house, (it's ten feet from the kitchen door) she put some effort into making it welcoming and inviting, arranging rocks salvaged from other places in the yard and planting flowering herbs. An old screen now is entwined with a flowering vine, and in front of it she "planted" a log pillar with a small resin statue of Our Lady and Child. The effect is so endearing I had to share it with you all.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Summer Birthdays

I couldn't resist posting this picture of a summer ritual in our family: celebrating the birthdays of our boys and their dad. My husband Andrew's birthday, which usually makes a happy conjuction or coincidence with both Father's Day and the Feast of the Sacred Heart, begins the summer for us. One indispensable hallmark of the celebration is strawberry-cheesecake (the BHG recipe), which my eldest daughter concocts with greater skill each year. This year, in absence of graham crackers, she ingeniously substituted a crust of walnuts and chocolate: delicious! I love the red-blue-white-green hues of this photo, and how our youngest is earnestly helping her father blow out the candles, watched by some Hatke child guests. Now that our picnic table has emerged from the garage, I hope for many casual summer evening suppers and celebrations in the twilight.

Healing Sunlight Revisited

Some of you may remember the photo I took of my newborn daughter Polly lying on her quilt in the sunlight. Well, she is nearly two-and-a-half, but she still sleeps with her "blankie" which I made her. The other day, I caught her napping in a laundry basket in a beam of sunlight, and I thought I would share the image with you. How babies grow so fast!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Homemade Sink Cabinet

About two weeks ago, we experienced a kitchen crisis: the stainless steel kitchen sink that came with the house rusted apart (the drain literally fell out of the bottom) and the sink cabinet that housed it (a $100 cabinet from Lowes) collapsed. Our kitchen has been badly in need of rennovation ever since we moved here, but this situation made a re-do imperative. 

When we moved in, we had re-fitted the kitchen with cabinets salvaged from someone else's rennovation, but almost all of those have now lost their doors or broken their drawers, leading my husband to declare war on the standard kitchen cabinet. And new cabinets and countertops, with their thousand-dollar price tags, remain beyond our budget.

So the solution? Several components came together to help us escape this kitchen debacle, no doubt guided by our guardian angels.

1) A vintage sink.  With built-in dishdrains on either side, this cast-iron sink was given to us by an in-law, who had it lying on the ground outside his barn. We had to work to find faucets to fit both the holes and our checkbook, but it's solid and sturdy. Bar Keeper's Friend took the rust spots off the enamel, and it almost looks new.

2) Corian countertops. Once the Cadillac of the countertop world, solid-surface Corian has suffered a downfall in the wake of the granite-and-concrete revolution. A retired contractor bought the contents of a store that dumped its old colors of Corian, and offered them for a bargain price in our local paper. What timing! Andrew and I spent several dusty hours moving huge slabs in his warehouse and finally found three pieces in black and dark green that matched. We talked him down to a price of $120. Sold!

3) Barn wood framing. We've been living with open shelves in the kitchen for years now and we love them. So Andrew decided to try open shelves on our base cabinet. Using salvaged barn wood, Andrew and I built a base of old 4x4s and thick planks we had belt-sanded and stained. (Did you know they now have wipe-on polyeurethane? I wanted to sing for joy as I finished the wood, knowing I wouldn't be ruining yet another brush by failing to clean it properly!)  We've yet to build the shelves for holding pots and trays beneath the cabinet: as you can see, we're just storing our tools there in this picture. But there should be room for lots of bulky items that right now are piled in cantankerous piles in the broken-door standard cabinet across from this one.

There's more work to do, but our kitchen is now functioning again, and our family is rejoicing in the spacious new counter space. I'll let you know what happens when we finish building the shelves. But so far, so good: and we are thinking of applying the same design to the stovetop island that makes up the other side of the kitchen: so the adventure continues!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Thank you for your prayers!

The baby llama has pulled through okay, and is happily skipping around the pasture with her mama and enjoying chasing the sheep!  We never did get her to accept any sort of supplement, but she managed to nurse anyhow. I suspect the culprit might have been the heat: she was born on a very hot day, and since then the weather has been considerably more mild.  (Being born with a full coat of curly black hair has its disadvantages in Virginia!)  But I also believe in the power of prayer, and I am certain that the prayers and good wishes sent its way helpled exceedingly! Thank you!

Monday, May 03, 2010

A New Llama!

This Sunday we were wonderfully surprised to find that our mama llama had given birth to a beautiful little black baby girl llama!  The little one is well-formed, but sadly, she's not nursing well, which doesn't bode well.  I need to ask for prayers for this little one, since llama babies, unlike sheep babies, are fragile and need looking after.  She's refused a bottle of colostrum, but we have some hope that she managed to nurse in the night.   The parent llamas are very proud of their little girl, and though they don't like my husband and I to approach her, they are perfectly fine with our young children coming up to pet the baby, which of course, they love to do.
So I'm asking for prayers that our little "Black Beauty" will nurse well and thrive!  She is a delight to our children already, and if she keeps her black color (her father is dark brown with a black face) she will be a rarity in this area.  So pray, and I will let you know how she fares.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Fine Irish Pub in Ohio

This past weekend, my husband and I attended the Mad Anthony Writer's Conference in Hamilton, Ohio, and were delighted to be introduced to a truly Irish pub in the same town, Ryan's Tavern. Run by the husband of one of the conference organizers, whose family hails on both sides from the Emerald Isle, Ryan's Tavern has the distinction of being a fantastic restaurant as well as a genuine pub.  Ensconced in a renovated building crammed with history, Ryan's Tavern features a cherry-wood staircase that makes a grand entrance for any bridal party, extra-large booths (built and carved with Irish knotwork and ivy by Amish craftsmen) to accomodate many friendly dinner parties, and a vast variety of fine Irish beers and spirits.

Coming from an Italian background myself, a family joke was that the Irish can't cook: have you ever heard of an Irish restaurant? Well, after eating twice at Ryan's Tavern, I am happy to be proven wrong. The Shepherd's Pie was simply mouth-wateringly amazing. And their range of appetizers, entrees and desserts is comprehensive - everything from St. Patrick's Pasta (you knew he was of Italian descent, right?) to the Tipperary Portabella appetizer to the passionately delicious Confessional Chimichanga (a wafer of pastry wrapped around softened chocolate served with ice cream: we thought we were too full to try it but we ended up fighting for the right to finish it!). If you happen to have the good fortune to come to Hamilton, Ohio, be sure to stop for a bite and a drink at Ryan's Tavern. Good luck and God's blessings to you!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Easter Vigil and Morning Centerpieces

Our usual routine on the Easter Vigil is to send our young children to be early, while the rest of us stay up to clean house, fill and hide Easter baskets, and set the table for breakfast after church in the morning.  This year, my eldest daughter created centerpieces that were so enchanting I had to share them. She cut flowering branches and planted them in soil-filled clay pots topped with moss, then hung them with tiny wooden ornaments (culled by me from a thrift-store table) and set them on flowered linens from the antique store bin. Taking a cue from my friend Clare, I had purchased wooden peg people which the girls and I painted, then glued on wool hair and gilded wooden wings to make a chorus of Easter angels to welcome our children in the morning.
My daughter again took creative license with my plans when it came to setting the table. A yellow sheet from a giveaway bag was our tablecloth and I bought 50-cent white dishes at thift stores to serve as chargers for my grandmother's Depression glass china, but it was my daughter who made Easter egg nests of pink shredded paper in her collection of tiny clay pots and nestled them in linen napkins, placing one of her very own special silver spoons on each plate to crack the shells with.

The result was pure enchantment for the young ones, an awe that rivaled that of Christmas morning.  Though their baskets were hidden away until after Mass and brunch, Easter joy was awaiting them on the table that morning, and even one of our adult guests declared that it was the loveliest table setting she'd ever seen.  Many thanks to my daughter's creativity!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Sparkling Elegance from LuShae Jewelry

Recently I received a free sample from LuShae Jewelry ( in a splendid dark blue gift box, which brought my attention to this Australian-based company (but they ship from California).  I love this simply elegant iridescent pearl, and I highly recommend their jewelry.  They have everything from promise rings to beautiful cross pendants to earrings, and don't miss this adorable antique fleur de lis necklace.
If you're searching for Confirmation or graduation gifts this spring, give this site a browse!  Their customer service is quite wonderful, and bloggers might want to note that they run a yearly contest to give bloggers the chance to win $5000. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Easter Gifts from Creative Catholic Moms!

For those of you looking for sweet small handmade gifts for Easter, I highly recommend my friend Clare Marmalejo's Etsy Store, Little Red Whimsy.  Clare buys castoff wool sweaters, felts them, and sews them into wee hats and mats for little gnome people she creates.  Her store has become quite popular this Easter, but I believe there are still a few gnome sets left: along with fairy furniture, mushroom necklaces, and gnome houses.  Clare, who now has two little girls with her husband Nick, still lives in a cottage and still loves creating adorable toys for children!

Another good artistic friend of mine has opened her own store, selling tiny saint dolls just perfect for an Easter basket: St. Anne's Pixies. Jennifer Flippen, mother of four, crafts saint dolls from wire and wool felt, painting their faces and small accessories, such as St. Zita's kitchen tableSt. Martha's bread, and St. George's horse!  She also sells rosary pouches, Miraculous Medal earrings, and peg people such as the adorable "He is Risen!" princess below.

So as you prepare for Easter, visit the stores of these talented Catholic mothers!  And blessings to your Lent.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

A Snowy Day and a Lost Sheep

As I write, a historic snowfall is showering upon our valley in northwestern Virginia.  Over two feet of snow covers Shirefeld.  My husband and I awoke early, enjoying the childlike happiness of snow, and discussed our plans for the day. Reading books by the fire, perhaps even poetry, after a few chores were done: those were our chief goals.  After praying the family rosary around the fire, my husband decided to check on our small flock of six sheep and two llamas.  He was thanking God he had picked up a large roll of hay Thursday for their small stable beneath our chicken coop, so they had both shelter and food.  To his surprise and concern, none of the black-and-brown hair sheep were near the stable, though the llamas were there, chewing placidly.  He saw the sheep in the far reaches of the pasture, and they were stuck in the heavy snow.  Quickly he floudered across the heavily-laden field and started driving them back to their stable.  They were struggling in the snow as they made their way back to the stable/chicken coop.  But then he counted them, and to his dismay, he realized there were only five.

I had come outside to look at the picturesque falling snow and heard his shouts.  Soon the family and our two boarders were mobilized and out to look for our lost sheep. I confess my feet froze first so I went back to the house, but my husband, our eldest son, and our boarders continued to slog through the snow, poking at strange-shaped drifts, looking fruitlessly for tell-tale tracks and trying to think of why the sheep might have wandered off.  When we realized it was one of the pregnant females, we began to lose heart.  Surely her condition had lowered her resistance to the cold weather.  Why hadn't the sheep stayed in their stable where they were safe? Why had they chosen to wander instead? I'm sure I wasn't the only one who asked that, as the snow continued to fall and the lost sheep was nowhere to be found.  My husband said he kept asking himself why he hadn't checked earlier: why he hadn't moved the sheep to the more sheltered second chicken coop?

My husband, feeling like the worst of shepherds, was despairing, but continued to try to imagine where the lost sheep could be.  He set Caleb to poking around one of the pasture lanes nearer the house with a shovel, in case the sheep had tried to find shelter there.  Meanwhile, he and our boarder Elizabeth (who fortunately had raised sheep with her family) tried to puzzle over the sheep's disappearance.  Though sheep are notoriously lacking in intelligence (no compliment was intended by Our Lord when He called us His sheep), they tend to remain in their flock, and their guard llamas usually carefully keep the herd together.  Perhaps, said Elizabeth, the sheep was about to begin lambing, so she went off by herself to give birth in a more secluded spot.  She suggested that they search for a sheltered place far from where the rest of the flock had been found - around the pond and the northeast lane furthest from the house and the stable/chicken coop.  So she and my husband started wearily trudging across to the other side of our five-acre pasture.  On one side of the pasture is a lane where my husband keeps the sheep when he needs to isolate them.  It was overshadowed by snow-laden branches.  No sooner had he reached the lane and climbed the fence than he spotted -- not one sheep, but two!  A newborn lamb was standing at his mother's side.

Great was the rejoicing!  Inside, those of us who had lost hope were greeted by a happy child messenger (our eldest son), shouting the good news: "We found the sheep!  And there's a baby sheep too!" I rushed outside to greet the spectacle of our boarder, Elizabeth, returning to the house, cradling a newborn lamb in her arms, and my husband wrestling to carry a full-grown snow-covered struggling mama sheep across the pasture.  Not as statuesque as the pictorial Good Shepherd, but the image brought to mind a shepherd who had truly laid down his life for his sheep.

The rest of the day was spent converting our garage into a sheep nursery so that we could have mama and baby out of the weather.  (We moved the other two pregnant sheep inside, just in case.)  And Andrew called our friends who had been praying for the recovery of our lost one, and was delighted to be able to repeat the words of that Scripture that will always have deeper meaning for us now: "Rejoice with me!  For the sheep I had lost has been found." - plus one!

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Random Moment of Beauty: Putting Away Christmas

A glorious juxtapostition of my birthday and the clearance sale at Wal-Mart meant that my mother and I brought home armfuls of glass ornaments, tinsel, cranberry wreaths, and colored lights for around $30, and guests at my 40th birthday party spent their time decorating our Christmas tree.  We neglected to get ornament hooks, so paper clips were happily pressed into service.  And come Epiphany morn, our well-worn Christmas tree was ever more resplendent.  I believe we have discovered a new family tradition!

Perhaps envigorated by its new garb, our tree remained fresh and green, barely dropping a handful of needles through Candlemas.  We spent the second day of February playing medieval Christmas music at full tilt and taking down decorations.  Boxes that had delivered gift pears to my parent's house were repurposed as sturdy boxes for the glass ornaments that had survived the twentysome days of Little Christmas.  I seldom buy them, given their price and delicacy, but in the happy coincidence of my birthday with Christmas clearance, I think I have discovered a new way to incarnate the celebration of full Christmas season. Pass it on!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Last Day of Little Christmas 2010

The plans I had made to post more about Christmas were curtailed by our son Thomas' developing diabetes over New Years.  After our time in the hospital, we have spent most of the rest of Little Christmas adjusting to life with a young diabetic.  But as per tradition, I wanted to post at least one photo of this year's Nativity scene to thank you all for reading and for your prayers.
Blessings upon your New Year!