We came home from Mass yesterday to the planned green smoothies. Notice how cold and lonely this smoothie appears.
It was quite delicious actually.
We came home from Mass yesterday to the planned green smoothies. Notice how cold and lonely this smoothie appears.
It was quite delicious actually.
When I was in sixth grade, Father Higuero, one of our parish priests, would come once a week to give our class a special catechism lesson. Father did not grade or test, but, on the first day of class in September, he gave one simple assignment: Prepare an oral report on the life of a saint and be ready to speak in front of the class whenever called upon. We students knew it would take the entire school year for each one of us to have a turn.
Now if I had been given a girl saint or perhaps a martyr, this would have been right up my alley, but instead of St. Bernadette, Joan of Arc, or valiant St. Laurence, there fell to my lot St. Thomas Aquinas — priest, philosopher, theologian, doctor of the Church. To say that he did not capture my imagination would be putting it mildly.
By the time Father Higuero returned for our second session, I had forgotten about St. Thomas — and the assignment itself for that matter. As he began scanning the rows of children to choose that week’s speakers, I ducked my head behind the girl in front of me, praying, “Dear St. Thomas Aquinas, please do not let him call on me.” To my great relief, two other children were chosen, and I resolved to be prepared the next time. Week after week this went on, with me always forgetting and my prayers to St. Thomas growing ever more fervent.
One morning late in the school year, Sister Kathy announced, “Father Higuero is coming for the last time today and will arrive in a few minutes. In the meanwhile, please read these magazines quietly to yourselves.” My heart sank to hear her words, for of course this meant there would be no more postponing the inevitable. Miserable, I said one last prayer, “Dear St. Thomas, I know I should have learned about your life and didn’t, but won’t you please help me?” The girl in front of me passed back the stack of religious magazines Sister had mentioned. Imagine my delight and wonder when I caught sight of the headline on the back cover: “The Life of St. Thomas Aquinas.” “Thank you, St. Thomas, thank you!” I whispered so low that none but the saint himself could hear and began reading with the greatest interest imaginable.
Half an hour later, Father Higuero nodded approvingly upon hearing a young girl’s enthusiastic account of the life of St. Thomas Aquinas. Although Father never would learn the truth about what a spur-of-the-moment effort it had been, my guess is that he would have been forgiving and perhaps even a bit pleased. After all, thanks to his priestly guidance and teaching, I had managed to learn something about the life of a great saint. Far more important than that, I came to believe for the rest of my life that St. Thomas Aquinas was my friend.
At this very moment, my eldest daughter is taking two SAT subject tests. When I realized today was the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, I smiled knowing she was in good hands.
Recently, I stumbled upon these pictures of a craft I prepared for the girls and their friends back in May of 2002. Wooden "Sacred and Immaculate Heart dolls" are easy to make. Begin with wooden cutouts of gingerbread girl shapes, small wooden hearts, glue, paint, and—for the Blessed Mother dolls—blue squares of felt.
June is the month of the Sacred Heart, and these dolls would make a pleasant craft to celebrate the beginning of summer!
Our daughter Theresa and friend Emily O'Neill—then aged six—display their dolls:
Works in progress:
Our friends, Mary Beth and Mary Rose, looked pleased with their projects. [In the background, you will see tissue paper Sacred Hearts, another very easy project. The tissue is lovely against a window, because the sun streams through to give the effect of a suncatcher]:
Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us!
Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!
A day in May begins with Twelfth Night practice.
Our director gave notes to the cast:
in the shade of a large oak:
A sword fight broke out (and, no, this was not part of the play):
We observed the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with a small altar (can you find it?):
Here is a closer view:
And here it is again after the younger ones (the brothers and sisters of cast members) spent the day adding flowers to it!
A birthday was celebrated:
Make that two birthdays:
And a good time was had by all!
[From left to right: Maria, Feste, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek conspire against Malvolio.]
particularly those of the children of our homeschooling group.
Here are perhaps a little more than half the children who attended our annual May Crowning yesterday. By the time this group shot was taken, most of the others had already skipped off to the swings, scooters, and snack tables. As usual, blue was the color of the day.
Before the guests arrived, I stockpiled a basket full of medals, cards and books for the children.
The ribbons and medals were part of a simple craft planned for the children--beribboned medals to wear to the crowning. Browsing the craft store, I found favor ties meant for weddings and thought they would be perfect for making wearable pins, particularly because the lilies, white flowers and bells (reminding me of the Bell's of St. Mary's) are so perfect for Our Lady. When crafting for a crowd, it helps to save precious time, and favor ties meant less cutting and measuring of ribbon.
Here is one of the gorgeous little rosary books I picked up for the children--small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but featuring full color illustrations of all four mysteries (yes, even the Luminous). These books will need to wait a bit though--in the hustle and bustle of the day's events, I forgot to give them out!
The simplest, quickest Marian activity in the world, step-by-step:
The children worked on the pins as they arrived:
My girls love to add their own stamp of creativity to any idea, so here are a few samples they made in the morning:
[Cost per project: about 75 to 99 cents, except for larger medals.]
We began the Crowning with a procession led by the first communicants, followed by all the children. Our music--including Queen of the Holy Rosary, Regina Coeli, Bring Flow'rs of the Fairest, Hail Holy Queen Enthroned Above and others were led by the girls from Our Lady of the Angels Choir under the direction of Miss Lynn Wilson. (I am proud to say that Agnes and Theresa are members.) We said the rosary according to the method of St. Louis de Montfort. [From the appendix of True Devotion to Mary, Montfort Publications.] I had originally hoped to fill a basket with the petitions of all our group members, but this is another of those things that was lost in the shuffle of a busy day.
As you can see, our festive Marian Lanterns made a fitting backdrop for the occasion:
The sight of first communicants in May makes my heart sing--how well I remember being among the joyful first communicants processing into the school yard of St. Mary's School many, many years ago. We too sang "Bring Flowers of the Fairest." The Catholic Faith is the stuff of beautiful memories.
The crowning moment:
And how much do you love this picture of our gorgeous first communicants with Heather's daughter Lily smiling directly at the face of Our Blessed Mother?! I have no doubt Our Lady is smiling right back!
May the grace of the mystery of the Coronation of the Blessed Mother, Queen of Heaven and Earth, come down into our hearts.
May Crowning trivia: Our three first communicants banner image was taken during last year's crowning.
In the memoir of her life, Sister Lucia of Fatima looks back upon how she and her cousins, Blessed Francisco and Jacinta liked to call the moon "Our Lady's Lantern." This is perfect imagery because the moon gets it light from the sun, or, in Our Lady's case, from the Son. In honor of this recollection--with the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima right around the corner--we shared these "Marian lanterns" with the children of our local group.
Paper lanterns are readily available at the craft or party store and come in a wide array of colors. [Ours looked something like this, but they were only $1.49 each at Michael's Craft Store. SEE UPDATE BELOW.] Holy pictures, glitter, ribbon and silk flowers were all we needed to create a festive display for our upcoming May Crowning. The pictures tell the tale:
And now, some notes from the "Live and Learn" files:
1. Laminated holy cards are difficult to glue onto round surfaces, particularly without a glue gun.
2. Big round lanterns roll, presenting something of a difficulty for very young children. They were all so excited about this craft though that they did not let this daunt them for long!
3. If you decide to change the date of your May Crowning, make sure the friends who live furthest away and have the most children hear about it before they travel hours to be there. If you do make a mistake of this magnitude, hope that the victim has a heart of gold and will forgive you immediately.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . . .
Over the weekend, with the assistance of a glue gun, the older girls and I made a few more beauties to decorate the family room for May:
The holy card image shows the vision Sister Lucia had just before leaving Fatima to begin her life as a nun. She sees grace and mercy flowing from Our Lord on the cross.
We added a pretty watering can to remind us of the showers of grace available to all who seek them.
Mount Carmel Lantern
[You will note that this is a beautiful and reverent use for an old scapular we had been keeping in a drawer. We attached it so that it would still be usable in the future.]
Holy Name of Mary Lantern (work in progress)
Queen of Peace Lantern
May Our Lady shed her light into our hearts, during this month of May and always!
Warning: Although these paper lanterns are designed for use with an actual lightbulb, once decorated, this becomes a fire hazard. (Candles would not be safe for these lanterns either.)
Variations on a theme
If you will not have time to complete a project like this during May, how about saving the idea for All Saints Day on November 1st? Collect holy cards to create a range of saints' lanterns with your family or homeschooling group. These would make a festive decoration if placed outside the house for All Hallows Eve or at the center of your group's All Saints Day party. Liturgical colors, such as red for martyrs, would add to the beauty and symbolism.
If you can't find paper lanterns, there are many ways to improvise. Decorate colored bags, large paper mache or styrofoam balls, discarded Christmas ornaments or bright coffee cans.
Cost per project: $1.49 for each lantern, plus embellishments. Figure at least $2 to $3 each.
[UPDATE: We used 8 inch lanterns made by a company called Darice. I could not find them online, but managed to find these reasonably priced substitutes in a wide array of colors.]
Some of my local friends may be wondering why I did not post last week's project: "Spiritual Ships." The story will be appearing in the first issue of the new magazine, mater et magistra (formerly Heart and Mind).
Not long ago, my friend Kari wrote to propose an idea so good that it left me almost beside myself with glee:
"Caroline and I would like to come watch the children on Wednesday while you do/go wherever. Will this work for you????"
Why, yes, as a matter of fact, it did work for me! And the note served as yet another reminder of what a blessing it is to have the world's most beautiful and thoughtful friends. While I was using this found quiet time, Caroline and Kari did more than merely watch the children. Caroline arrived with homemade dough, sauce and cheese to make the most delicious pizzas my homemade-dough-deprived darlings had ever eaten. (By a miracle, Marie, who cannot bear even the thought of pizza, loved Caroline's and asked for the recipe!) Kari brought jars of dye, candles, a ream of butcher paper and specialized tools to make Ukrainian Pysanky eggs. As you can see from the photographs below, the children learned a new skill, dying, waxing, and melting for hours.
If you are interested in learning the art of Pysanky, take a look at these step by step instructions or this online tutorial. I can't explain the steps myself, because while all this was going on, I was off writing a last minute addition to the Haystack!
As you can tell from the infrequency of my posting lately, life has been a whirlwind here for quite some time. This too shall pass, but in the meanwhile, we are beyond grateful for loving local friends always offering to help! [I realize that I can't link to most of them!]
Happy Easter tomorrow everyone!
You may remember that when Helen began the Hidden Treasure forum over at 4Real, she used the calendar to find "Our Lady of Altagracia" as its patroness. (The forum was scheduled to debut on her Feast, January 21st.) I had never heard of this title for Our Lady, but when Helen told me she was the patroness of the Dominican Republic, I quipped, "Well, I guess we know what country you will be adopting your next baby from." We both laughed, and, knowing the Blessed Mother, Helen agreed that this was quite likely.
Three months later, Helen found out Our Lady had a different grace in store: She was expecting a baby due on January 21st.
[Yes, I know you know that story! But it is such a good one--how can I not repeat it?]
Here is a Tea in Honor of Our Lady of Altagracia, served in thanksgiving for Helen's baby and to Our Lady for making this title so well known to all of us.
In planning the Tea, I consulted the Novena Prayer translated for us by Helen. If you have a moment, please refer back to it to understand the references below. It might make sense to read the prayer with the children, pointing out the symbolism of the items on the table.
Our Mother's Hands
The Love of our Hearts
Three Graces Tea Menu:
Love of Purity
A Sweet for Our Lady of Altagracia
1. Our Mother's Hands
At the outset of the tea: Create delicate paper hands to represent the loving hands of Our Lady. Help the children to draw or write their blessings on each hand, remembering to thank her for "the innumerable favors we have received from [he]r hands." Take a moment to remind the children of the image of the Miraculous Medal also showing the graces shining from the hands of our heavenly Mother.
2. The Love of our Hearts
Pass out paper hearts, allowing the children to decorate them lavishly (after all, Valentine's Day is coming up, making this the perfect decoration for the season), writing or drawing their special offerings to Our Lady. This could be a love letter to her from each one of us, including a word from the adults. We remember to offer her "all the love in our hearts."
Three Graces Tea Menu:
The Novena specifies the three graces we request from Our Lady, and the menu offerings of the tea reflect them in a simple way. [This is not fancy, but it is do-able!]
3. Love of Purity.
We serve something white representing purity to accompany the vegetables in the next menu offering. There are many recipes for dip that is white, and ranch dressing might work as well as anything.
In asking for the grace of purity, we remember the perfect purity of the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
4. Home Blessings.
We remember the humble home in Nazareth, asking for a shower of grace upon our homes through holy marriages. Our Lady of Altagracia is the patroness of the Dominican Republic, so we remember "Home Blessings" with produce that grows in this, her chosen homeland: snap peas or pea pods. [Here is a picture of pea pods to give you an idea of the type to buy.]
When you break open the side of the pod, the peas inside look like a family in their house. If the children have never heard the expression, "like peas in a pod," this would be a good time to mention it.
5. Maternal Arms
We ask the grace of flying to Heaven with the help of Our Lady's maternal arms. Small twisted pretzels would be the simplest possible addition to the table, and would go well with the dip. The original German pretzels were meant to represent arms crossed in prayer, but I think they would make a wonderful maternal embrace for these purposes. [I am hoping to keep this as simple and inexpensive as possible. As you can see, the first three offerings are not sweet or extensive. They are meant as a small snack, leaving everyone ready for a rich dessert!]
It is no coincidence, by the way, that the Novena to Our Lady of Altagracia takes place only a few weeks after the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus (January 3). May we never cease to praise His holy name, engraving it on our hearts forever. [Please refer to the Novena prayer to see the connection.]
6. A Sweet for Our Lady of Altagracia:
The chief exports of the Dominican Republic are coffee, sugar and bananas. A delicious dessert honoring Our Lady of Altagracia could be made by spooning carmelized bananas over coffee ice cream.
To carmelize the bananas, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Slice the bananas in half and sprinkle with butter and brown sugar. Bake about 7 minutes or so. [You might be able to do this over the stove as well. I'd need to experiment!] If this is too difficult, use plain ripe bananas over coffee ice cream--or even vanilla ice cream with bananas and a drizzle of coffee syrup.
Sometimes improvising is key, particularly this time of year! I do not know about you, my friends, but we still need to get our Christmas decorations put away, so "less is more" at the moment!
Altagracia Tea, Shopping List
White dressing (ranch or homemade)
Snap peas or pea pods
Small twisted pretzels
Coffee Ice Cream
When my friend, Mary, invited us over for a potluck supper on the Feast of the Epiphany, we did not know it would turn out to be an evening of wonders, with old-fashioned games, a full-scale Christmas pageant, and even a visit from good St. Nicholas himself. My children and four other families had participated in an art exhibit at a local museum, and the gathering was planned as a way to celebrate afterward.
Here is one of the baskets we brought. Don't you love that Book of Kells tea towel? It was brought home for us from Ireland by my friend, Caroline:
We packed it with all the non-perishable ingredients for a Tea to Celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas and Epiphany [The perishables were toted in a far less photogenic cooler]:
After an afternoon of playing outdoors, the children came in for old-fashioned party games:
My personal favorite was the game of quotes. The children lined up in two teams with words from a famous quote on their backs. The object was to put themselves in the correct order without saying a single word to one another. [First team with the quote in order wins.] Here the girls show the mixed up words to Puck's famous quote, "Lord, what fools these mortals be!":
Next they had a scavenger hunt. All the objects on the list below were hidden in the living and family rooms. As a participant in this particular game, I will tell you they were not easy to find. The items were left in plain view, and the children were asked not to touch anything, so the game did not turn to chaos as it might have otherwise:
With the games completed, my friend Kari brought all the children upstairs to prepare for a beautiful, impromptu Epiphany Pageant, complete with poetry and hyms. They pulled names from a hat to determine roles and came down to perform for the parents.
I was amazed at how quickly they pulled it all together, right down to costumes. Here the parents wait for the performance:
The cast poses after a job well done:
While they were rehearsing, Mary, Caroline, Aleta and I set the table for the Epiphany Tea. You will notice we brought our Christmas pyramid along as a centerpiece. The children loved it, even when one of the candles fell momentarily and started to burn the surrounding wreath:
Here is our hostess Mary's clever take on "Baby Jesus in a Manger" for the Epiphany Tea, homemade gingerbread babes on soft beds of coconut straw:
Kari brought this traditional Buche de Noel:
Aleta made these almond studded jam tarts, a reminder of the host of angels in a starry sky:
[Although I do not have a picture, Caroline brought her famous scones, tiny "pillows" for the Baby Jesus.]
Agnes read her three letters to the Wise Men from last year to the younger children:
Just as we were getting to the last crumb, the doorbell rang. It was late, and we were not expecting anyone, so this was quite strange, but our hostess hastened to open the door:
Lo, and behold, there on the porch was a huge red bag full of presents for each and every one of the children and even the adults:
We did not see who left these welcome gifts, but the children were quite certain dear St. Nicholas had a hand in it:
Maureen was thrilled with her package of small toys and coloring book:
And the baby exclaimed ere she drove out of sight, "Happy Epiphany to all, and to all a good night!"
This afternoon, the older four girls and I went to First Saturday confession. I entered the confessional to repeat the same sin I confess month after month after month--"Father, I was impatient with the children." My pastor smiled, telling me (yet again) that he hears this from mothers all the time.
Is it any wonder that today, of all days, I came across this--a Hymn to Our Lady of All Patience (what a title!) written by none other than our beloved St. Louis de Montfort? Here it is, an anthem to Our Blessed Mother suitable for mothers everywhere:
Come to my assistance,
O gentle and divine Mary,
Come to my assistance!
I suffer and groan every day.
Be compassionate to my troubles.
Free me from them, I beg you.
Come to my assistance!
You are most merciful,
Everything is under your rule.
Give me then some help
Or at least, the gift of patience.
Please click here for the next five stanzas of St. Louis' hymn. He really seems to have been suffering when he wrote it, but it is a fine testimony to his faith in Our Lady's love and care.