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.
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!"
O Lord Jesus Christ, teach us to love Your holy name, to hold it in awe and pronounce it with reverence. Deliver us from the sin of blasphemy. May the holy name of Jesus be infinitely blessed!
Vouchsafe O Lord, for Your Name's sake, to reward with eternal life all those who do us good. Amen.
Prayer from: Novena Calendar
Activities requiring no advance preparation:
--If you still have candy canes on hand (or even if not), show the children how the canes may be turned over to form a "J" in honor of the blessed name of Our Lord.
--When I was growing up, my parents always bowed their heads upon hearing or speaking the Holy Name. If this custom is new to you, consider introducing it as a new year's resolution.
--Recite the Litany of the Holy Name after dinner.
--Light a candle, preferably white or red, in honor of the Holy Name.
--Create an ornament or picture, cake or cupcakes with the letters "IHS," symbolic of the Holy Name.
--Read today's Mary Vitamin [627, The Holy Name of Jesus].
--According to the Mary Vitamin, "St. Isaac Jogues carved the Holy Name of Jesus into the trees around His mission house in upstate New York, in deference to the power of the Holy Name over the devils." How about allowing the children to hang a handmade sign featuring the Holy Name on a tree (or trees) outside?
Last year, we began a new tradition in our home--putting up a gingerbread house on the Feast of Our Lady of Loreto, a date so closely associated with Our Lady's prayerful and holy home.
Hoping to continue the tradition simply and manageably this year, I purchased a Wilton Cottage Cake Pan a few weeks ago. It reminded me of the Holy House of Loreto as depicted on holy cards and in this coat of arms:
[Loreto Coat of Arms courtesy of International Civic Arms.]
We began with plain yellow cake mix, ready-made frosting, pink and purple sugars, gumdrops, gummi bears, mini-marshmallows, and colored wafers:
Once the cake was baked, it was a snap to frost in white. Theresa gave the cake a crumb coat, and Margaret and Marie to applied the candy embellishments. This they managed skillfully [I was making dinner and let them at it on their own] in spite of the help offered by Patrick, Maureen, and Eileen.
Margaret was particularly proud of her own innovation--a chimney made of mini marshmallows:
Here is the work in progress--Marie's snowman stands to the left:
It was my bright idea to put the cake on a pedestal cake pan to keep out of the way during dinner. We left it in the dining room on the piano out of reach of the little ones.
Midway through dinner, disaster struck!
We heard a sickening thud and raced in to find our candy cottage face up on the floor:
Margaret's chimney was no more:
And look at our poor piano! [This photo was taken after we cleaned the keys.]
Disappointed, but undaunted, Margaret set about a reconstruction. The fact that we already had a picture of the cake in its original glory was a comfort to her. We talked about the Holy House in Loreto and how angels carried it from the Holy Land to Italy to prevent its desecration. Our Candy House had moved unexpectedly too! We like to think the angels helped it land face up, even though it fell face forward. : )
Every year, I save particularly beautiful Christmas cards, knowing we may eventually find a good use for them, and this image of the Blessed Mother in red was just the thing for our pretty house. I left a bit of the card edge at the bottom to stick into the icing, creating a vibrant "Loreto" cake topper:
A group of cherubs hold up the base, reminding us of the many holy card images we have seen of Our Lady of Loreto:
At the end of the day, the children gathered round, of all things, the laptop computer. We made the Consecration to Our Lady of Loreto from the wonderful Minnesota Mom. Having just prepared for the Total Consecration on December 8th, this was especially meaningful.
Before bed, I blessed the children with Loreto Oil from the Holy House, sent by my dear friend Anne for my mother. What a blessing it is to have such good and thoughtful friends!
Our Lady of Loreto, pray for us! Bless our homes and our families, and make us more like you!
The same day I wrote the post asking the immortal question, "Does the Gunther Family ever stop taking tea?" I received an email from my gracious friend, Gloria, entitled, "Invitation to Tea":
"Could you come to tea at my house on Wednesday? We could do a high tea with sandwiches and scones with lemon curd etc. The girls love having tea parties."
Needless to say, I fired back an immediate response:
"We will come with great joy on Wednesday! Thank you for the invitation to your beautiful home!"
An automatic link to my blog appeared at the end of the message, and Gloria followed it, finding Cottage Blessings for *the first time.* When she read all those posts about the charms of Tea in San Francisco, she laughed out loud, knowing she had invited the right family!
My dear friends, feast your eyes on the spread Gloria provided for us. Its perfect elegance and beauty cannot be captured on film, because you cannot see the well-tended gardens surrounding the house with every sort of blooming or edible growing thing imaginable (all thriving as vibrantly as a Beatrix Potter watercolor) or the detailed architectural elements both inside an out, reminding me of why San Francisco is so famous for this. You cannot see Gloria's dear children showing me their artwork and telling stories, combing and ribboning Maureen's blonde head, or teaching their guests the Virginia Reel! These things are tucked away in my memory, but I know you can imagine them.
I will attempt to relay the menu, hoping not to forget a single delectable bite:
Vanilla Milk Tea
Earl Grey Tea
Cucumber Tea Sandwiches sprigged with mint
Chicken Salad Tea Sandwiches
Date Tea Sandwiches
Peanut Butter and Jelly Triangles (for the very little ones)
Homemade Lemon Scones
Homemade Nutmeg Scones
Homemade Clotted Cream
Homemade Lemon Curd
All of this was served on fine china and an heirloom tablecloth with the strains of Bach and Pachelbel filling our ears.
Gloria thought of everything, and what Victorian Tea would be complete without a charming table for the littler girls?
In the Little Girl World, if you are a friend, you must be picked up. Maureen has found favor with the Princess.
Agnes found a copy of Maria von Trapp's "The Story of the von Trapp Family Singers" on a shelf. Not only did Gloria let her borrow it, she also sang a duet of "The Sound of Music" with Agnes, much to our great delight. Gloria is a Conservatory graduate, and her voice is ethereal!
The only difficulty was peeling my children out at the end--this was not easy, let me tell you. Tea Time in San Francisco keeps getting better and better!
If you visit San Francisco's Golden Gate Park and squeeze your van into a spot on Martin Luther King Jr. Dr, you may find yourself wheeling a double stroller down Ninth Avenue. As you step outside the park, you will want to turn left at an Art Gallery that doubles as a Cocktail Lounge, skim past DaHil's Handwriting Analysis [a business that looks straight out of Dick Tracy] and pause a moment to glance inside the window of Cuschieri's Cabinet Shop. Keep walking, and you will be standing in front of a storefront bathed in the colors of the French countryside--all sage and suntan and strawberry--and crowned with a cheery striped awning and gilded sign: The Secret Garden Tea House.
If you happen to gaze through the door and catch a glimpse of chintz and china, you will no doubt wish to enter, yet the unwieldy stoller and two active babies may give you pause. Have no fear--the owner will wave you in with a smile, "Bring the stroller right in, and have a seat. Your table is ready!"
At least this was our experience, and I am sure it will be yours as well.
As I have written here before, the girls and I have a First Saturday tradition of attending Mass and Confession before spending a special night or afternoon together, usually at a restaurant or bookstore. We had hoped to continue this custom here in San Francisco, but, with no one to watch the little ones (and Daddy working quite a bit), we have had to put it on hold for a while. Several months ago, we read about The Secret Garden Tea House and hoped to give it a try for one of our First Saturdays, but it seemed we would never be able to get there without our spirited troupe of little ones.
A few days ago, I had an idea and proposed it to the girls: "Why don't we call the Tea House and ask them to pack us a picnic to bring to Golden Gate Park?" The gracious woman on the other end of the phone said she would be very happy to pack the Tea for us to take outdoors, but, hearing one of the younger set calling to me in the background, she asked, "Are you planning the Tea at the park because you have little ones?" I laughed and admitted that this was indeed the case, and she said, "Oh, they are very welcome to come along with you. This is a Family Place. Why don't you come in, sit down, and have some tea?"
With this encouragement, I very happily made a reservation for myself and all seven children, including my lively boy, active toddler, and bouncy baby. The staff at the tea house welcomed us with open arms, encouraging me to bring the double stroller right inside and seating us at a table so beautifully set I felt as if we were arriving for a party.
Soon three tiered servers laden with a host of delicacies began to arrive--cucumber sandwiches sprigged with mint, clotted cream and scones, dainty onion puffs, and tiny napoleans (to name but a few), alongside teddy-bear shaped cinnamon toast and miniature brownies for the littlest ones. The children were delighted, all choosing the same type of tea called "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Why am I not surprised?
Lest you feel a bit sorry for my dear boy in a place so lavishly feminine, please do not! He loved it as much as anyone, requesting to return for breakfast the next day. (I kid you not.)
Raggedy Ann was impressed with the food and service, asking politely for second helpings on almost everything.
Although children of all ages were welcome, the place was calm and soothing--even my littlest ones were inspired to serenity in such gracious surroundings. The food was dainty and delicious, and we certainly appreciated the florals and pretty touches all around.
After almost two months, we have learned to love a great many things about this wonderful city, and this warm and friendly Tea Room will remain high on our list of favorites.
[Baby Eileen smiles during her first Tea as if to say, "I am so glad this is a 'Family Place'!"]