Friday, April 30, 2010

Feast Day: St. Pope Pius V ... protector of the Congregation of the doctrine of the Church

We finish off April with yet another Dominican saint (I think they're following us!).  St. Pope Pius V, born in 1504, entered the Dominicans at 1518.  Taking the name Pius when he was elected pope in 1566, Pius carried out many of the reforms promulgated at the Council of Trent.  He oversaw completion of the Roman catechism, cheered on Christians in the fight with the Turks that culminated in the Battle of Lepanto, and spread devotion to the Madonna of the Rosary (this link will take you to Women for Faith & Family's website page where they explain this painting by Lorenzo Lotto):

May the apostolic zeal, the constant pursuit of holiness, and the love of the Virgin, which characterized the life of Saint Pius V, stimulate all.
Venerable Pope John Paul II

Thursday, April 29, 2010

American History: Martha Dandridge Custis Washington

Martha Dandridge Custis Washington (1731-1802), lovingly nicknamed "Lady Washington" by George's troops, was a major force during the American Revolution.  This petite (only five-foot-even), Virginia-born lady brought cheer to her husband's troops FOUR(!) times during the Revolutionary War:
  • Winter of 1775 -- Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Spring of 1776 -- New York
  • Spring of 1777 -- Morristown, New Jersey (where she spent the time nursing George Washington back to health)
  • Winter of 1778 -- Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
She would travel days (up to two weeks) to winter-camp with the American Army ... spending the 3-6 months darning socks, knitting new ones, mending clothes, and bringing light and joy to the dispirited boys.  Because of her presence, other officers' wives came to camp ... and she had them knitting and mending and darning right alongside her.

Martha Washington had her share of grief and sadness -- her first husband died when she was just 26; all of her children predeceased her as well as some of her grandchildren; George Washington, sacrificing for our fledgling country, was gone from Mount Vernon seven years with the Army and then just as he was home to retire, they asked him to become President.  Martha went right along with him.

String Bean did a presentation for her co-op class on Martha's role in the American Revolution.  In her research for this project, she found this quote (which String Bean made into bookmarks for her class):

String Bean also found a cookbook, Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats (edited by Karen Hess), and made Martha's Sugar Cakes (a shortbread-like cookie that is really delicious):
Sugar Cakes –
Take 2 pound of flower, & one pound of sugar, & ye youlks of 2 eggs, & a spoonfull of sack, & a spoonfull of rosewater, & make it up into a paste with melted butter. & roule it out pritty thin, & cut them with a beer glass, & put them on plates & set them in an oueun meanly hot ye stone downe.

Our translation (for half a batch of cookies):
2 cups unbleached flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1 cup sugar, 1 tbls vanilla or other flavoring, 3/4 cup melted butter, 1 egg, 1 tbsp milk. Mix together, chill for about an hour, then roll out thin; cut into circles (using a glass or biscuit cutter). Place on cookie sheet and place in a 375 oven till golden brown (about 10-15 minutes).
String Bean had such fun with this project, dressing like Martha chatting with the troops (her class) and knitting away on a pair of "socks for the boys".

Here are some of the books she used for researching this project:


Feast Day: St. Catherine Benincasa (of Siena)

St. Catherine of Siena is well-loved around here.  She is one of Kotch's namesake-saints and she is dh's patron saint this year.  This was one amazing woman who lived only 33 years and yet accomplished so much through her mystic discussions -- which, for the continued benefit of Catholics today, were transcribed for the Church.

In musing about what to feast on to celebrate this wonderful Dominican tertiary, I did a "google" on recipes and found out something wonderful.  The author of one of my favorite liturgical year cookbooks, A Continual Feast, Evelyn Birge Vitz, has created a blog to continue the recipes and celebration of the liturgical year aptly named A Continual Feast ... Continued

I love what she said about foods for St. Catherine's feast:
What shall we eat in St. Catherine's honor? I was casting about for Italian treats--I am sure the Sienese must have something scrumptious for her feast day! But Catherine herself spent important periods of her life fasting, and indeed consuming nothing but the Eucharistic host. As she said in one of her dialogues, speaking to the Eternal Trinity: "The food of angels, you gave yourself to man in the fire of your love… In our hunger you are a satisfying food, for you are sweetness and in you there is no taste of bitterness, O triune God." I think that, if possible, the most appropriate food for us to eat in St. Catherine’s honor is the Eucharist--the bread of heaven.

So, we're off to Mass this morning!  [But, never fear, I'm sure we'll come up with something suitable for feasting tonight!]

Here are some wonderful resources we will use today to learn more about St. Catherine of Siena, one of only three female Doctors of the Church:
  • Rick has been reading Catherine of Siena by Sigrid Undset and highly recommends this loving portrait of his saint.
  • Catherine of Siena: The Dialogue is packed with copywork possibilities even for the youngest; although her thoughts are deeply profound, the words are quite accessible (with some explanation) for even BamBam. [Note:  the picture above, which I used to make a prayer card, is the Holy Spirit inspiring St. Catherine to dictate the Dialogue.]
  • Lay Siege to Heaven: A Novel about Saint Catherine of Siena by Louis deWohl, is a wonderful telling of this lady's life.  This book is great reading for the 5th grade and up crowd.
  • Catherine of Siena (the DVD) is one of those great dramas created in Italy and distributed in the US by Ignatius Press.  The ability to show the kids a saint "in real life" helps them "own" the saint and remember her and her trials and triumphs.
Happy Feast of St. Catherine of Siena ... and please say a prayer to her today for Kotch (who is heading into finals week at college) and for Rick ....

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Unit Study: For the Birds ... some more resources we're using

We started a unit study on birds ... starting with the incomparable John James Audubon!  We're having such fun learning about birds and all the amazing things they do ... much more than merely pecking at the ground and flying!

Here are some of the best resources we've used recently:
  • Capturing Nature: the writings and art of John James Audubon (edited by Peter and Connie Roop with illustrations by Rick Farley) ... this is a great introduction to Audubon, using his own words to describe his background, how he got interested in birds, and a bit about how he learned to draw them so beautifully.
  • John James Audubon: Writings and Drawings (the Library of America) ... this is a great companion to the above children's version; here you have the actual writings (misspellings and all) of Mr. Audubon, including his journals for going up and down the rivers and his ornithological directory (with amazingly personal notes about each bird) and his letters and notes about drawing birds.  This is a great addition to our study as we can do copywork from here and really get to know Audubon!
  • John James Audubon: Wildlife Artist by Peter Anderson ... this is a great chapter biography about Audubon, illustrated throughout with Audubon's own prints/paintings of birds.  The author, Peter Anderson, does a great job of explaining in accessible language all about this great naturalist, artist, outdoorsman, painter!
  • Winged Migration -- this is an AMAZING DVD that covers 40 countries, all seven continents, following birds on their migrations.  It is an amazing work of art to watch this video.
  • Life of Birds -- the indomitable David Attenborough does a fabulous job of explaining birds -- in all their many facets -- to the audience of this series.  Add the award-winning cinematography and gorgeous soundtrack and you'll understand why we are taking the time to watch this 5+ hour series.  One of the cool things is that Attenborough and his team seem to make a point of showing less-well-known birds and their antics.
  • Nature and Environment: Great Lives by Doris and Harold Faber is a compilation of biographies about many naturalists and scientists.  Written for a elementary-school level, the chapter on Audubon is great.  Don't worry if you;re tempted to head off on rabbit trails to discover more about other naturalists discussed in here including:  John and William Bartram, Luther Burbank, Rachel Carson, George Washington Carver, Jacques Cousteau, Jean Henri Fabre, Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt ... to name just a few. We did just that and found this lovely chapter book:  Children of Summer: Henri Fabre's Insects -- this is a great read-aloud about bugs!
Spring is such a perfect time to launch into nature studies ... and we're having a blast!  What have you found that we should look for?

Mother-Daughter Tea and Father-Son Barbeque

OK, this is such a wonderful idea from the lovely ladies over at the Pious Sodality of Church Ladies ... a very wonderful group of ladies whom I have never had the pleasure to meet and yet I get many wonderful ideas from them.

Seems that for the past 12 years or so, their Parish sponsors an annual mother-daughter tea party (with a father-son barbeque also).  The girls (9-13) come with their moms, all dressed up and wonderfully feminine-looking, and enjoy not just tea and cakes (see today's post for their menu ... wow!) but also talks from older teens about modesty in dress and behavior, talks about being feminine and the great gifts given us when God created man and woman differently.  Go read both of Margaret Mary's posts about the teas.

This is so cool!  And the fact that they also have a similar party for the guys is just wonderful. 

Anyone want to join me in starting up something similar nearby?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Nurturing Creativity Daybook ... the week at a glance

Last week over at Kind Conversations, I started a new daybook called "Nurturing Creativity" where I describe my day(s) and ways of nurturing creativity in my own home.

Now, let's be honest here ... there is no way I'm going to be able to keep up with a day-by-day listing of all the creative things we're doing around here.  If I did that, I wouldn't have time for all that nurturing I want to do ...

So, welcome to the week-at-a-glance version of NCD ....

  • on my needles: I have just started another project for the Knit Picks Independent Designer Program;  the Season-spanning Cardi I was working on last week is ready to be pattern-drafted and sent off to KP!
  • on the craft table: I have some sewing to do; we spent the weekend helping a dear friend make her aprons for her Dominican postulancy and that got String Bean and I plotting sewing projects -- skirts, tops and jumpers for summertim.
  • on the kitchen counter: I have chicken thawing for making the only kind of chicken LegoManiac will eat:  MaryM's Clinkerdagger recipe.  I'm planning what we'll make to celebrate St. Louis Marie deMontfort on Wednesday, St. Catherine of Siena on Thursday and St. Joseph's Day on Saturday ... LOVE being Catholic!
  • in the garden: I have seedlings coming up, transplanted azalea that needs to be nursed along, more tilling to get the front garden ready for flowers.  At least with the rain we had today, the ground is a bit easier to work
  • in the school-room: String Bean and I are working on her Co-op History project on Martha Washington's contributions to the American Revolution -- we have till Wednesday to make her mob-cap, a petticoat for her skirt, baked goods to tantalize the audience, and a script to write and memorize.  We're all working on creative projects to surprise Dad on feast of St. Catherine of Siena -- she's Rick's patron saint this year and we've got some great ideas up our sleeves having to do with food, crafts and a bit of fun!
So what are you doing to nurture creativity in your home? 

BTW, my goal ... that is "my target" ... that is "my hope" ... is that every Monday I'll be posting a NCD-week at a glance to keep myself honest and ensure we're always nurturing creativity around here ....

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Recipe: English Muffins ... the good, the bad and the not-so ugly!

I love to bake bread and yeast-filled products.  I'm getting pretty good at it and we've only bought one or two loaves of "bunny bread" from the grocery since Christmas.  The kids are learning to like "mom's bread" even if it isn't as soft and fluffy (and full of junk) as the store-bought kind -- it is MUCH cheaper than the $3+ per loaf I was paying ... so, they suffer a bit.

With summer rapidly approaching, I will run into a snag with my bread baking.  My dh, who spent much of his formative years in the bayous of Louisiana will NOT let me turn on the oven once the temps go above 70 -- it is a hard and fast rule around here. 

So, I'm looking for bread recipes that I can cook on the grill, stove-top or elsewhere (and I don't want  a bread machine ... have gone that route before and it's not fun, stress-reducing or fool-proof!).

Last night I made salmon cakes with homemade english muffins ... and the muffins were excellent.  I think I have found a great recipe ... and method of making the little blighters which makes them both edible and delicious!

Here's the recipe with my changes and notes: 
English Muffins (based on a mix of different recipes from online and cookbooks)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 tbls active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 3 tbls butter
  • 3 tbls milled flaxseed
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 4-5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt

1. In a micro-safe bowl, warm the milk, sugar and butter until warm. Stir till all is melted. Let cool until lukewarm. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
2. In a large bowl, combine the milk, yeast mixture, shortening and 3 cups flour. Beat until smooth. Add salt and 2 cups of flour, or enough to make a soft dough; use the least amount of flour possible to make it not stick, but you want a soft, light dough. Knead. Place in greased bowl, cover, and let rise about an hour or 1-1/2 hours.
3. Punch down. Roll out to about 1/2 inch thick. Cut rounds with biscuit cutter, drinking glass, or empty tuna can. You can also form the dough into balls and flatten – just be gentle. The muffins should be about 1/2-inch thick before rising. Sprinkle waxed paper with cornmeal and set the rounds on this to rise – you must do the cornmeal step else the muffins stick badly to the wax paper. Dust tops of muffins with cornmeal also. Cover and let rise 1/2 hour.
4. Heat non-stick griddle (if using electric, keep heat around 225-250). Cook muffins on griddle about 10 minutes on each side. Continue to flip over every 5 minutes or so until muffins are a lovely browned color (or if you are in a hurry, preheat oven to 250-275 and place muffins on rack for 10min or so). Allow to cool and place in plastic bags for storage. To use, split by perforating with fork tines all around the muffin, and toast (or eat untoasted, just not as good).

This recipe made about 16-18 slightly smaller-than-storebought muffins.  I fork-split the left-overs and froze them in a ziploc bag ... this morning the muffins were amazing (see the picture above)!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Review: Wonders Never Cease

Let's face it: I'm a sucker for a book where the good guys triumph, the bad guys get their comeuppance, and all is right with the world again. I love the type of book where the author has the bad guys when each campaign ... each little battle ... but ultimately losing the war!

Wonders Never Cease by Tim Downs is just such a book.  Downs paints a picture of a could-have-been doctor who likes to cut corners and find the easy way ... regardless of who gets in his way.  Kemp McAvoy decides to pretend to be an angel for a past-her-prime actress that is laying in the hospital in a monitored coma. 

McAvoy could care less about the ethics of messing with the actress's medication to bring her to a semi-conscious state; he could care less that in playing an angel he is messing with Divine Intervention.  McAvoy is just hoping to reap the millions of dollar that can be made from a "near-death" experience.  With the help of a few other less-than-desirable characters, McAvoy just about wins the day.

But, as in life, God can make good from any situation -- even the most diabolical. 

Downs has got this type of novel down.  His characters are believable -- the good ones are not over-the-top goody-goodies while the bad ones are just lazy, self-absorbed types that I've met in real life (OK, maybe not as bad as McAvoy ... but close!).  The dialogue is smooth and the cadence of the story is amazing.  This is truly a page-turner with each event falling perfectly in place like toppling dominoes.

This book is not high literature (nor is it catechetically accurate regarding angels and their missions).  That said, the deeper meaning of love and trust, the writing style, the characterizations and the plot itself, are all well-developed and well-delivered.  This is definitely a recommended read for high school age and up ... a fun and exciting summer-time read!

This book was received free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Book Sneeze review program. I was not required to write a favorable review nor was I given any payment other than a free copy of the book. All the comments above are my honest reaction to this book.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A New Daybook: Nurturing Creativity in the Heart of My Home

I started up a group over at Kind Conversations called Nurturing Creativity (which is also the subtitle of my book, In His Image).  We'll be sharing how we nurture creativity in our homes and helping each other along. 

One thing I started to day is a kind of "daybook" for creativity .... here's my NCDaybook for April 21st:
  • on my needles I have an almost finished sweater for Knit Picks Independent Designer Program;  
  • on the craft table I have some items I need to finish for my quarterly craft column in the summer issue of mater-et-magistra  
  • on the kitchen counter I have bread rising for dinner tonight  (Fr. G is coming so we're having a feast of roast beast, homemade bread, brownies (chocolate and blondies), and great conversation)
  • in the garden I have seeds just waiting for the warmth of the sun (and the much needed rain we're getting today) to burst into life; I have ground that needs tilling to plant some more seeds ; I have transplants from a fellow-homeschooler's garden that need nurturing to get them started in this Virginia clay 
  • in the school-room I have plans for letting the three littles write/direct/produce their own version of St. George and the Dragon for Friday evening entertainment!

So what creative things are you working on today .....



Review: Phoebe's Sweater

I have a new favorite picture book ... this one combines beautiful, gentle illustrations, with a beautiful gentle story with beautiful knitting patterns at the end ... hmmmm, wonder why I like it so much!

Phoebe's Sweater, the first book from hand-knits designer Joanna Johnson, is a book that raises the bar of what a good picture book could and should be.  The story is a sweet story of Phoebe Mouse.  Her mom can't play with her so much now as Phoebe is soon to get a sibling.  But her mom can knit for her!  And her mom knits her a beautiful hooded sweater that keeps Phoebe cozy all through the Fall.  A lovely story of family and playing and being outside and loving life.

But, wait, there's more ...

Phoebe and her family are drawn in lovely soft colors by the author's husband, a graphic artist, in his first attempt at book illustrations.  He has talent.  The illustrations would delight any child ... and have mine trying to imitate the artwork! If you click on Phoebe's Sweater, you can see inside the book and gaze at the illustrations yourself (if you don't believe me).

But, wait, there's more ...

The author didn't stop at the end of the book ... she gave the readers a wonderful gift:  knitting directions to make child-sized versions of Phoebe's sweater, knitting directions for making a doll-sized version of the sweater, AND knitting directions for making Phoebe mouse!  How cool is that?????  String Bean is not going to wait for me to make her a Phoebe ... she is going to attempt the pattern on her own. 

What more could I want from a picture book ... knitting, great illustrations, a lovely story ... Oh, and in case you get this book and like this story ... Joanna Johnson has set up a blog so you can follow Phoebe on the Road!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Review: Saint Clare: Beyond the Legend

Saint Clare, considered by many to be the "little plant" of St. Francis ... the "first Franciscan woman" ... "the saint of Assisi", led a fascinating life clothed in the silence of the convent, yet ready enough to argue with archbishops, cardinals and popes about her order of Damianites, working diligently to get her order approved (which occured on her death-bed).  Having the middle name "Clare", I've always been interested in this saint who seems to reside in the shadow of the legendary St. Francis, but who founded her own order of poverty-based Poor Clares (known at the time as Damianites since they lived at San Damiano). 

Marco Bartoli, a student of Clare studies, has given us in his book Saint Clare: Beyond the Legend a comparative study of Saint Clare based on the facts of her biography as written in the Acts of the Process of Canonization of Saint Clare (by eye witnesses, including her own sisters) and the emotions in the "Legend of Saint Clare the Virgin" which is a condensed version of the canonization process and clothed in the political (both secular and parochial) correctness of the day.  And the book shows that Clare was a very complicated individual ... rich but humble, modest yet forthright, a student and follower of St. Francis' way while also teaching and leading her own Damianites in their own spirituality.

This is a very scholarly, academic treatise about Saint Clare, her sisters and her Church.  Translated from Italian by another noted-Clarian scholar (Sr. Frances Downing, OSC from England), the book is heavy-going and laden with analysis, trying to find the "true Clare" amidst the rhetoric and politically-correct speech of the day.  Dr. Bartoli, a professor medieval history at the University of Perugia, wrote a previous book titled Clare of Assisi, which might be a better starting point for understanding Clare and her life and times before, during and after St. Francis. 

The book reads like a long scholarly review article rather than a biography but is no less interesting (although the ending was abrupt and didn't summarize Clare's life ... the book just ended).  I'd recommend this book to those who already know a bit about Clare and want to delve deeper into the life of an amazing 13th Century woman.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. I was given a complimentary copy of this book with the request that I write a review; the review above is my honest opinion of this book.  Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Saint Clare - Beyond the Legend .

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The start of something big ...

always begins with a small step (even if it does take all day on a balmy 60-degree spring day):
Today, dh and I began work on a tree house for the kiddoes ... these two 2x8x12s are the start for a platform that will elevate the kids about 10' up ... with rope ladder, rope bridge to another platform (anchored by a nearby oak) and generally a place to hide-out/sleep-out.  For now, the large beams are holding up a swing ... and they are loving it!

More to come as this particular project progresses here at Hilltop!

BTW, here's what a clafouti looks like ....
This is the one we made for St. Bernadette's feast (Friday, April 16th) ... mixed berries and slivered almonds, since I had to use almond extract as I ran out of vanilla extract (who runs out of vanilla extract!!!!!)


Friday, April 16, 2010

Feast Day: St. Bernadette Soubirous

Today is the celebration of St. Bernadette Soubirous, the young Basque girl privileged to see the Blessed Mother at the grotto in Lourdes, France.  We really love this little saint who died so young, in so much pain, and yet offered it up for us all.

St. Bernadette is from the area of France where my maternal great-grandfather was born.  He was born in the mountains just above Lourdes not many years after Bernadette saw Our Lady.  What crazy times those must have been ... with the French Revolution, the secularization of much of the country and a young girl privileged to speak to Our Lady and then to relate to us all the messages of love and sacrifice. 

Millions of pilgrims go to Lourdes annually .... many non-Catholics too believe in the miracles that have occured at the waters ... miraculous healings of mind, body and soul.  My dh gave me a wonderful book about these miracles, The Wonders of Lourdes, and we have been blessed to visit the waters twice on pilgrimage with the kids (String Bean was just months old when she "took the waters" the first time). 

So tonight, I will make clafouti (recipe below), we will watch The Song of Bernadette and Bernadette and we will pray to this lovely Basque saint who continues to give such a great example of how to love completely.

St. Bernadette Soubirous, pray for us ... that we may learn how to love even our trials.

Clafouti ... Julia Child’s Version

Preheat oven to 350.
• 1 1/4 cups milk
• 2/3 cup sugar, divided
• 3 eggs
• 1 tablespoon vanilla
• 1/8 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 cup flour
• 3 cups cherries, pitted (or any fresh/frozen fruit like apples, peaches, pears, etc – peeled and pitted)
• powdered sugar, for garnish

Using a blender, combine the milk, 1/3 cup sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt and flour, and blend. Lightly butter an 8-cup baking dish, and pour a 1/4-inch layer of the blended mixture over the bottom. Set remaining batter aside. Place dish into the oven for about 7-10 minutes, until a film of batter sets in the pan but the mixture is not baked through. Remove from oven (but don’t turn the oven off, yet). Distribute the pitted cherries over the set batter in the pan, then sprinkle with the remaining sugar. Pour the remaining batter over the cherries and sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 to 60 minutes, until the clafouti is puffed and brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve warm.

Servings: 6-8 for dessert, 4 for breakfast.