Sunday, July 08, 2012

Six years: Joshua-Michael, 2001-2006

You never get over losing a child.  How can you?  The gap in your life is still there, and it needs to be acknowledged.  Six years ago today, my son Joshua entered heaven, our true home.  Had he lived, he would have been turning eleven years old this month.  He would have probably been getting tall, and played with the boys living down the street from us.  He might have been wrestling with his brother Thomas and annoying his older brother Caleb.  I wonder if he still would be playing prince to his sisters' princesses, the way he loved to do, as seen in this picture.
We miss him.  We seldom speak of the pain, but we often speak of him.  And I think that's how it should be.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Today begins the Novena to the Holy Spirit!
Day 1


Let us bow down in humility at the power and grandeur of the Holy Spirit. Let us worship the Holy Trinity and give glory today to the Paraclete, our Advocate.

Oh Holy Spirit, by Your power, Christ was raised from the dead to save us all. By Your grace, miracles are performed in Jesus’ name. By Your love, we are protected from evil. And so, we ask with humility and a beggar’s heart for Your gift of Charity within us.

The great charity of all the the host of Saints is only made possible by your power, Oh Divine Spirit. Increase in me, the virtue of charity that I may love as God loves with the selflessness of the Saints.


Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.

O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, through Christ Our Lord,


Find the Original Here: Novena to the Holy Spirit 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Random Moment of Beauty: Pink and Green

I love this color combination in the spring, as you know.  Here's a softer pairing, which stands behind our microwave on the green countertop.  The friend gave me the pitcher years ago, and the cups are my daughters. Since we lack drawers in our kitchen, the basket is our silverware drawer.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Black Cat Collection

Since we have named our house The Black Cat Inn, it seemed natural to start collecting inn-like artifacts with a black cat theme. We are determined to rehabilitate and redeem the bad press this hue of feline has received, feeling we are in good company since Our Lady herself has given a new significance to the 13th day of the month.
So here is our collection to date: starting at the bottom and going counter-clockwise: ttwo signature wine bottles of Black Cat Wine, normally known as Zeller Schwartze Katz, a deliciously sweet light white wine (our house vintage, naturally!), a bottle of Black Cat Tonic which Snow White found in an antique store for us, an iron antique black cat plaque together with two cooking implements unburied on our property, a set of black cat trivets (such pieces frequently tend to appear on eBay in October, we've discovered), two prints of a long-deceased magazine from the 1900s titled The Black Cat, and lastly, a homemade menu for our "Inn," composed by our eldest daughter when she was around ten, which we couldn't resist framing. No doubt the collection will grow, as collections do, but this is the status thus far.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

My King in Spring

When I inherited this statue of the Infant of Prague, a devotion I've reconnected with over the past five years, I also inherited gilt lace coats, two for the different seasons, frightfully tattered and faded.  Somehow I think little Jesus looks a bit smothered in these particular garments, but I am touched by their homemade attempts at finery.  So I tend to keep him in his simple painted surplice on the bookshelf by my bed.  I couldn't resist giving him a scarf of Indian cotton -- it should really be a stole, but the fold around his neck hides the crack that beheaded him last year.  The casual style reminds me a bit of the Little Prince, and that's not altogether a bad thing, is it?  So there he stands, with a wine bottle of holy water (I love the vintage sleeve), a clay candle from Europe, a gourd box from Mexico, a bird photo frame from a friend, and a bookend we have christened St. Benedict. Prince of Peace, bring peace to our world.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Bilbo's Coat Rack

My brother-in-law continues to work his magic at Strong Oaks Barn Wood Shop, which is about to move into an actual commercial workshop, having far outgrown its beginnings as a garage hobby. When we finished our entranceway with reclaimed barn wood this past summer, we envisioned having an entryway like Bilbo Baggins' -- one with "lots d lots of pegs for hats and coats -- the hobbit was fond of visitors."  Mike obliged with this amazing nine-foot pegboard, which we think truly gives our entranceway a touch of Middle-Earth hospitality.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Reasons for Hope

My husband grew up on a small strawberry farm.  For years, he and his ten siblings worked the fields every summer, picking massive or miniature berries to sell to strangers passing down their road.  He knows how to grow strawberries. Yet somehow he and I have never managed to include strawberries in our garden.  They are an "investment" plant -- you plant, you wait a year, you hope -- and somehow during that year of waiting, we have always managed to mess up -- whether by failing to water or moving to a new house. 

We finally planted last summer. Last year was the waiting year.  This year, with its unusually warm winter, is the fruiting year.  The plants are large and lush.  Our children are anticipating a fruitful summer.  We hope their hope, long tested, pays off.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Mary's Month is May

My daughter loves this dollar-store china statue, which she believes to be Mary -- though I confess most of the year I am dubious, suspecting that she is a mere fashion doll.  But when we set her on a centerpiece with a bouquet of flowers and an oil lamp to celebrate Our Lady's special month, I admit that she has a more lovely and peaceful expression than many manufactured statues of impeccably sacred pedigree.  We must find her a crown.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Finding Time

I've been struggling to find my way back home for a while. For about the past year, I've been feeling too busy to do more than put laundry in the dryer, let alone journal with my camera. Pondering on the subject for some time, I believe I can credit my dislocation to two developments:

1) Having teenagers.  Now at last I understand why my friends with teenagers always have a "running between appointments" look to them, and why they were always so busy, no matter what time of the year or day of the week it was.  I have joined the treadmill: my third daughter becomes a teen this month. And our teens are not overly scheduled, nor are they involved in any activities besides school -- but yet, they are older, and managing their schedules and emotions takes time -- time previously spent gazing at an infant sleeping or watching toddlers discover their fingers. Now my time with my children is spent not watching but talking -- teaching, arguing, discovering, or just having a conversation.  My life is less silent. For now.

2) Needing to work. Alas, my professional duties continue to intrude onto my life and the computer has become a taskmaster.  How can I complain?  I do work I love, I work with people I love, and I feel my work is both useful and necessary, but yet, it takes time.  And the screen preoccupies me more than my teenagers, sad to say.

So this summer I hope to find my way back home, somehow.  Today I put my teen son's laptop by the window to work, with a pot of tea cozied beside it.  I tried to look out the window at the games goint on  outside, and to take time to watch my children who are growing up so fast.  I hope to journal again, and seek out the moments of beauty to share.  Thank you for faithfully reading.  Let us continue to pray for one another.

Friday, April 06, 2012

A Family Retreat for Good Friday

A grown-up retreat for parents is difficult on Good Friday. But there are still things you can do with your children, small and large, to make Good Friday into a real retreat day for them, a quiet day to think of what Christ has done for you and for them.

Here is what you can do.

First off, prepare yourself interiorly.

1. Surrender your expectations. A family retreat may not necessarily involve long stretches of silence, uninterrupted meditations, or even a great degree of solemnity. Children are children, after all. A family retreat will look different and feel different from a retreat for adults.

2. Serve the weakest members. Anticipate that the smallest children (and older ones) will be hungry, grumpy, irate by an unexpected routine, or hyperactive. Bring along bottles of water and a bag of pretzels for snacking. Figure out a way to accommodate naps for smaller and older kids. Realize that you might also be grumpy from fasting. Scale down large expectations: settle for less. Serve the youngest children and encourage your teens to have the same attitude. Chances are, if your youngest children are engaged, you will be as well.

When you have prepared yourself to surrender and serve, here are a few activities, which you might want to try.

General activities:

1. Whatever you decide to do, bring along your Bible or a booklet of the Stations of the Cross (with pictures is best). Decide as a family to read all four Passion Narratives, but not all at once, and maybe not all together. Remember how children love stories. In the car or while waiting for something else (ie: bread to rise, Mass to start), dip into each of the Four Gospels. Maybe in the morning, at lunch, at dinner, and before going to bed. You decide. Return to the Gospels over and again during the day. They are short.

2. Sing. Sing "Glory be to Jesus" or "O Sacred Head Surrounded." Or sing the responses from Mass: "Lamb of God," "Holy, Holy, Holy" or the "Our Father." Chant the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Sing to fill up the gaps or to remind the family what this is all about. Sing before naps, in the car, before a meal. Singing makes it sacred. It's okay to sing the same thing over and over again, especially for younger children, who will like it more.

3. Rest. Let your teens sleep in late: it will be easier for them to fast. Make an early bedtime. If you are retreating at home, naps should be optional for all kids. Probably not for you, though.

4. Don't do stuff. No catching up on big housework. Wash the dishes, wipe the counters, pick up bedrooms, but that's it. Don't run the vacuum. Cancel appointments. Keep kids home from school. If Dad can take the day off, cool. If not, that's okay. Do what you can. Don't do what you don't really need to do. Don't shop. The stores are full of Easter things: shop on Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday. Don't watch TV or listen to the radio. Fast from electronics.

5. Stay outside as much as possible. There are fewer distractions of the electronic and recreational kind. Pick flowers. Sit and watch bugs. Take a family hike. Go to a retreat house or religious institution and just walk around the grounds. If you know of someplace that has a Stations of the Cross outside, go and visit. You and the older kids can pay attention to the Stations: involve the younger children as the moments allow.

With younger children (3-6 years)

1. Make a moss garden. Go outside with a bucket and gather moss, gravel, small flowers, branches from boxwood bushes, and rocks. When you come inside, plant a moss garden in a old baking tray and build a tomb. Meditate (ie: keep it in your mind and speak to the children about it at opportune times) the Garden of Gethsemane, how Christ's friends were too tired to pray with Him. Remember how Christ was buried in the tomb. Above is the tomb my older daughter created this Holy Thursday.

2. Read stories. The Gospels are best, but there are other books that are also good. Avoid those with too much Easter in them. Read the story of Jonah and remember how Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days.

3. Gather four of the biggest nails you can find and hold them and talk about them with your children. Notice the sharp points. Discern how much detail you should go into with your younger children about Christ's sufferings, but let them know that Christ was nailed to the Cross. All young children can relate to getting hurt and experiencing bleeding. Meditate on how Christ got hurt, on purpose, to save us. Hold the nails gently. Kiss them to thank Jesus for getting hurt for our sake. If you go on a family hike, bring the nails along, wrapped in a cloth. Take turns carrying them.

4. Cover the statues and pictures in your house. Get a bunch of cloth napkins in a dark color, or cut up pieces of dark cloth (we have used a black cape from a Halloween costume). Go around the house and carefully cover up statues of Mary and the saints and holy pictures. (If you don't have cloths, you can turn some pictures to the wall). Use dark garbage bags to cover up outdoor statues. Talk about why we do this at home and at church. We do it to help us focus most of all on Christ, and to remind ourselves that without Christ, there would be no saints!

5. Have a funeral procession for Christ. Leave your family crucifix uncovered until 3 PM. Then take it down from the wall. Have some small wet cloths and gently wipe it and clean it. (Crucifixes can get dusty.) Take turns kissing Christ's hands and feet and face. Say thank you to Jesus for dying for us. Wrap the crucifix in white cloth (napkins or tea towels work). Then have a procession to the dining table or other place of repose. Family members can carry palm branches from Palm Sunday, lighted candles, flowers. Sing or chant as you process slowly to the place of repose. When you reach the place, place the flat palm branches criss-cross to make a sunburst and place the crucifix gently on top of them. Arrange candles and flowers around him. Say a prayer together. Keep the place of repose as a place where family members can until Easter.

With older children (6-12 years)

1. Go fishing. Find a quiet spot. Suggest to your children that they try to keep silence together as much as possible. Bring a Bible or book of the stations of the Cross so someone can read. Meditate on how the apostles were fishermen, what it means to be a Fisher of Men. Christ could have appeared anywhere on earth: why was He born in a place where fishing was such a large part of life? Does this mean anything? If you catch anything, have it for dinner.

2. Make pretzels out of salt dough in the morning. Recall that the pretzel shape is meant to recall arms crossed in prayer over the heart. (Hold a pretzel "upside down" to get the idea.) Discuss your Lenten resolutions. Was prayer really a part of your Lent? Let them rise and then bake them and have them for lunch with or without soup.

3. Carry the cross-beam together. While on a hike, look for a log or a heavy piece of wood that would be about the same weight as Christ's cross-beam. When you find the beam, take it with you on the hike. Take turns carrying it, or carry it together. Decide how far you can carry it. While you do, meditate on Christ's carrying His Cross and the Stations of the Cross. Think of how we can help carry one another's crosses.

4. Make a cross from a Christmas tree. This requires some additional planning, but if you know where you Christmas tree is (ie: on a burn pile in the back yard), find it and cut off the branches. Then cut it in two to make a cross. Fasten the cross-beam on the cross with rope or wire or nails. Set it up in your yard by digging a hole or piling stones around it. Pick flowers and put them around the base. Meditate on how the Christmas tree symbolizes the Tree of Life that was left in the Garden of Eden, and how the same Christ Child who gave us gifts at Christmas gave us Himself at Easter.

5. Have personal prayer times. At an opportune time (during the baby's nap?) let everyone go into a secret corner of the house with a Bible or prayer book and spent at least fifteen minutes praying any way they want. Give them notebooks or paper to write letters to Christ.

6. Pray and draw the Sorrowful Mysteries. If your kids are artistic, let them drawn pictures of the Passion as the family prays the Sorrowful Mysteries. They can draw anything from Christ Himself or Mary weeping over Christ or just them implements of the Passion -- the crown of thorns, the nails, the cross. Or they can copy a verse from the Passion narrative and illuminate it in calligraphy or with decorations. Post the artwork on the fridge or the family bulletin board or on the doors until Easter.

With teens (age 12-18)

1. Make a crown of thorns. While you're out in the wild, bring along a brown paper bag and a tough pair of work gloves. Gather thorn branches from brambles. When you have a rest, sit down and try weaving a crown of thorns, with gloves on or not. (Gloves are always an option.) To avoid unnecessary scratches, take your time: it's easiest to make the crown without gloves. In other countries, this is a traditional devotion. Meditate on Christ's crown of thorns and what it means for you. When you're finished, take turns carrying the crown as you walk. Place it on a cloth in the center of the dinner table.

2. If your teen is a reader, read or have them read the Dolorous Passion of our Lord by Anne Catherine Emmerich. Many teens have seen the movie The Passion but don't know the devotional work that inspired it.

3. If you have all teens, try spending the entire day outside. Practice "making silence" together. That means all agreeing to be as quiet as possible so that you and others can pray. Be aware that boys naturally make more noise than girls and let the girls know they have to be patient. :)

4. . Before bed, pray Night Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours as a family. During the time of examination of conscience, ask your children's forgiveness for specific faults and failings that you have committed during the day. Invite (but don't require) your children to do the same.

5. In evening, watch The Passion of the Christ or the final part of Jesus of Nazareth or another movie about Christ's life. No snacks.

For dinner:

1. Make matzo bread. This can be an activity for the whole family. Use one cup of flour per person (or 3/4 white and 1/4 wheat), add a bit of sea salt or blessed salt, mix in about 1/4 cup of pure olive oil or vegetable oil, and then add just enough water to make a mixture of the consistency of play-dough. Let the children help. Meditate (ie: keep it in your mind and speak to the children about it at opportune times) on how Christ became our Bread of Life. Think about the unleavened bread of the Passover the Jews ate, the manna in the desert, the bread Christ consecrated at the Last Supper. Knead and pound the bread to develop the gluten, and think of how Christ was bruised for our sakes. Heat the oven to 400 degrees and remember how He willingly suffered in the crucible for us. Divide the bread into one-cup rounds (you can mix it one cup at a time) and cover with a white cloth. Think of how Joseph of Arimethea wrapped Christ's body in a linen shroud. After about fifteen minutes, let the children roll out the balls of dough into flat rounds like pita bread. Gently put the flat breads onto a greased baking sheet and brush them with olive oil and spices. Think of how Joseph anointed Christ's body. Put them in the oven. Meditate on Christ's rest in the tomb. Bake for about 10-20 minutes or till golden brown.

2. Eat matzo for dinner with fish sticks and rice. Remember that you are fasting but that the children can have as much as they want. No dessert.

On Easter night, after the Vigil or before bed:

You can decorate the Moss Garden with new flowers and little white banners saying, "Alleluia" and "He is Risen!" Roll away the stone so that your children can see the empty tomb.

Uncover all the statues (dust them with the cloths!) and replace all the holy pictures. Drape the crucifix in white cloth or white ribbons, decorate with palm branches and flowers, and hang it up again with all the statues grouped on a table beneath to celebrate. Don't forget to uncover your garden statues! Or have the children uncover them before the Easter Egg hunt.

If you made your Christmas tree into a crucifix, decorate it with flowers and a white sheet draped over its arms. Put it in a place where it can welcome visitors to your home during the Easter season.