Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Feast Day: St. Andrew, Apostle

Today is the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, brother of St. Peter.  St. Andrew was crucified on an x-shaped cross when trying to evangelize the Greeks -- he lived for two days on that cross, continuing his preaching!

Tonight, we'll make St. Andrew Scones (with x's on the top, of course) from the recipe at Catholic Cuisine (altho I'll probably change them slightly and will post our version tonight).


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advent 2010: Stir-up Sunday

One of the great things about doing a unit study is the fun things we get to make and eat!  We always make fruitcake for Christmas (soaked in bourbon ... does it get any better than that?).  But this year, because of our Dickensian Christmas unit, I decided to hunt for a more traditional British Christmas Cake.  I found a lovely one online that steeps in sherry (altho you could use brandy (which makes me ill) or whiskey (which I didn't have)) for a few weeks and when ready to serve is covered in a layer of marzipan (YUM!) and than a fondant casing (we'll see about that!).

Anyway, the tradition is that the First Sunday in Advent is "stir up Sunday" ... meaning that if you started it steeping on the first Sunday by Christmas it would be nice and ripe! 

So here ya go:
Make sure that when stirring clockwise that you make a wish for Christmas!

Here's the recipe I used, with slight changes to the original from Delia Smith ...

Traditional Christmas Cake (makes one 8” round or 4 small loaf pans)

10oz. box dried currants
1 cup raisins
1 cup golden raisins
4 oz. container of diced candied orange peel, candied citron, AND candied lemon
1/2 cup cream sherry (+ more for “feeding” over the next few weeks)
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
grated zest 1 orange

The night before you want to bake the cake, combine the raisins, currants and candied fruit and pour the sherry over all. Stir well and leave at least 6 hours ….

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.

Cream the butter and brown sugar together until light and fluffy, then add the eggs, one at a time, beating between each addition. Add the flour, the spices and beat until just combined. Finally, fold in the fruit, the pecans and the zest with a wooden spoon.

For 8” round: Line with parchment paper (I cut out a circle for the bottom by tracing, then cut a strip to wrap around the edges) and pour in the batter. Pat down, making batter as flat as possible. Place another circle of parchment paper with a hole cut in the middle making sure circle is about an inch larger all round; secure paper to pan with yarn.

For small loaves: spray well with Pam. Using a cup measure, scoop 2 cups of batter per loaf (this will fill the pan). Pat down and make sure it’s in there solid. Cut parchment paper to fit top (with about an inch all round to fold down). Cut a diamond in the center of each piece of paper. Fold around filled loaf pans and secure with cotton yarn.

Bake in the oven for 2 hours (loaves) or 4 -4.5 hours (round), or until a skewer poked in the middle comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan, then poke with skewers and pour some sherry over the top. Soak cheesecloth in more sherry, and wrap the cake thoroughly. Store in an airtight container for a week or two, “feeding” every few days with more sherry. The character of the cake will change with aging, making it more and more confection like the longer it ages.

Here's a link to the marzipan recipe and the fondant icing that we'll probably use: 

Prayers for a holy, healthy and happy Advent 2010!  And have a happy Stir-Up Sunday!

Advent 2010: First Sunday!

From today's opening prayer:
All powerful God, increase our strength of will for doing good that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming and call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven, where he lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

The end is near ... a new beginning starts tomorrow!

Today is the last day of the liturgical year.  Which can only mean one thing:

Tomorrow is the FIRST SUNDAY of ADVENT!

We LOVE Advent around here ... lots of work and fun as we prepare our house, our minds and our souls for receiving the Christ Child on Christmas Day.  I always try to do some of our "old" traditions and incorporate some news one.  For instance, this year we won't be using the our Jesse Tree but instead will be (FINALLY) crafting our own Nativity figures while reading Franciscan Christmas by Kathleen M. Carroll -- this book explains the Franciscan and Christian spirituality of each piece of the traditional creche.  Our figures will be simple, primitive and yet, elegant for their simplicity!  We'll return to using our Advent Blocks as that is such a great way to encourage us to think about the saints, doing for others, reading/working together and just generally getting us ready for Christmas.

We've chosen our patron saints for the next year -- this year, the theme is Dominican Saints (there are TONS of these folks) and I've already got the patron-saint holy cards framed and on the family altar:

Dh's patron for the year -- ironic since St. Albert is patron of scientists, philosophers and theology students!
BamBam got St. Dominic
String Bean drew St. Margaret of Hungary (whose feast day is the same as LegoManiac's bday!)
Lego Maniac drew Pius V -- interesting since LM has always thought the whole Battle of Lepanto thing was cool!
I drew St. Rose of Lima -- my high school's patron and she's also patron saint of needleworkers and World Youth Day 2011!

We've also chosen our theme for the next year ... which starts tomorrow:  CHARITY will be the buzz-word around here with scripture verses, magisterial teaching, and other quotes on Charity being learned throughout the year.  "CHARITY" in it's Catholic sense meaning full self-giving because each of us is a child of God, or as defined in the Catechism (1844):

The first quote we'll learn is from St. Albert the Great (which is also on dh's patron saint holy card):
This is the picture we have up in the dining room (right above the altar) so that we can remember it ... memorize it ... own it and use it in our daily lives!

In the schoolroom, we'll be prepping for Christmas by doing a unit based on Dickens' Christmas novels (there were 5!) and learning all about the Victorian era and work toward celebrating a Dickensian Christmas (with, of course, a Catholic slant!).  I'll be posting our Advent unit study as we go ... including recipes, crafts, decorations and gifts that we'll create as we learn how Dickens' view of Christmas permanently changed the way most folks looked on Christmas.  Here's a quote which sums up Dickens' idea of Christmas:
"But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round -- apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that -- as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.
Come join us on our journey as we go toward Bethlehem and the morning of the Babe's birth.  May your Advent journey be blessed ... and know that you are in our daily prayers.

Unit Study: Explorers and Exploring

I have been quite remiss in mentioning the unit on which we've been working. 

About six weeks ago, we were browsing a book store and I came across this awesome book:  How to be an Explorer: An Adventurer's Guide .  This is one of those really fun books that has pop-ups and letters and diary-entries and games all rolled into a book that is meant to be "an adventurer's guide" written by "Sir Henry Hardcastle" to teach kids how to explore.  "Written" in 1931, the book is a guide to explorations of the Thirties -- archaeological digs, Polar treks, jungle safaris and animal discoveries. 

My kids were so enthralled with this book ... I decided to do an explorer's unit with them.  A great way to tie together history, geography, map-reading, orienteering, nature study, survival skills and just plain fun all into one. 

So off we started ...

The how-to book breaks exploring into perfect unit sections:
  1. tool kit -- which we'll make after Christmas using the wonderful haversack directions given in Alice Cantrell's Tin Cups and Tinder: A Catholic Boy's Little Book of Fire, Food and Fun.  We'll fill each haversack with binoculars (they'll each get a pair for Christmas ... shhh!), journal, sewing kit (also made from Cantrell's book), first aid kit, magnifying lens and other critical items (incl snacks of course!).
  2. ideas for exploring and training -- we'll be armchair training by reading about explorers as well as watching great videos like:  Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Around the World in 80 Days, as well as watching the documentaries that Michael Palin has done:  Around the World in 80 Days, Pole to Pole, the New Europe, and others (for Netflix subcribers, the Palin vids are on instant queue!).  We're also reading Voyage of the Dawn Treader (getting ready for the release of the film in Dec) making maps of the islands as we go from C.S. Lewis' amazing descriptions!  This is what we've been studying for the last month or so ... reading and watching videos!
  3. individual areas of exploring (we'll take about a two weeks on each of these):
    1. sailing the seven seas -- KonTiki
    2. beneath the sea (a great op for reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea )
    3. jungle and rainforest
    4. lost civilizations and archaeology (we've started on this a bit in history while reading All Ye Lands)
    5. polar quest -- antarctic and artic (we'll watch the first and last segments of Palin's Pole to Pole again, watch Shackleton, and re-read Mr. Popper's Penguins )
    6. desert adventures -- Lawrence of Arabia
    7. mountains -- Heidi
    8. finish with an overview of some famous explorers -- Lewis & Clark, Magellan, Captain Cook, and others
This breaks into such a wonderful long-term lesson plan for us.  We'll take a break for our Advent study (on Dickens and Victorian Christmas -- that will be the next post!) and be able to pick up right after the first of the year with exploring this amazing world God gave us!   As the weather improves in the Spring and Summer, we'll be explorers in our own part of the world .... adventuring into the mountains, down into the caverns (a field trip to Luray in April), out west in the Summer for a niece's wedding (a rode trip that is thru some amazing parts of God's ocuntry!),  and other wonderful areas around and about the Old Dominion.

Come along for the journey ... ok?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Review: The Father Brown Reader II by Nancy Brown

I avoid adaptations, condensed novels and other “re-told by” books of the classics. If we have to wait to expose our children (or ourselves) to great works, so be it.  Adaptations are so ... "reader's digestish"!

That said I have made an exception on occasion. One such exception was Nancy Carpentier Brown’s The Father Brown Reader, published a few years ago and an excellent re-telling of some of Chesterton’s stories for the younger set. Today, I received the hard-copy of the sequel, The Father Brown Reader II: More Stories from Chesterton. Published by Hillside Education, Brown has done another phenomenal job of making Chesterton attainable for children, while keeping the rich imagery and language of the original.  I was fortunate to get an electronic copy for review a couple of weeks ago and so this review is based on that reading.

The difference between this second compilation is that Brown has chosen stories with murder as the theme. She is quick to point out (in the ‘note to parents’) that these stories are not “gratuitously graphic” and that she believes teaching children about life and death is important. I agree wholeheartedly. By choosing these stories to adapt, Brown has opened a world to children that allows them to see that untimely deaths and the finding of the culprit are a worthwhile endeavor that can be treated with dignity and avoid the voyeuristic themes of other books.

Reader II includes four stories that are classic Chesterton: “The Invisible Man”, “The Mirror of the Magistrate”, “The Eye of Apollo”, and “The Perishing of the Pendragons”. The retellings are well done, tightly written and accessible for the younger readers – I am starting these as a read-aloud for my children so that we can talk through the events and messages Chesterton develops in each of these stories.

A bonus from the first set of stories and repeated in this volume is the artistry of Ted Schluenderfritz. Schluenderfritz helps children really see the humble parish priest Father Brown, the dapper and debonair Flambeau, the criminals as Chesterton describes them. These drawings, scattered throughout the volume, are a lesson in illustration from text-description and will make a great drawing unit for my children.  His sketches really bring to life the dumpy Fr. Brown, the tall, svelte Flambeau and the other characters scattered throughout.  The cover is just gorgeous ... well done, Ted and Margot!

Bottom line: for those who can, read the original Chesterton stories; for those who can’t, feel confident reading this (as well as the first) collection adapted by Brown. You will not regret reading these “re-told by” books!


Thanksgiving: Faith, Family and Friends ... what more could I need?

I started out this month attempting to do a "month of thanks" each day ... posting about what I'm most thankful for and why ... I made it to day 12!

Not that I don't have TONS to be thankful for ... or people to whom I'm thankful ... or a great God who has given me so much ... but as I was doing those daily posts it soon hit me that they can all be boiled down to be thankful to God for:


See, the funny thing is ... when I sit down and think about it, these are the three things that make my world:
  1. FAITH: my Catholic faith keeps me going thru the good and the bad times; when I'm feeling most sorry for myself ... most envious of others ... or just plain disgruntled ... I realize that I firmly believe in a loving God who only wants the best for me at any given time.  This makes me look for the best in the situation -- why would I be going thru x, y or z right now ... is it something I can change or not ... how can I make it better or learn to accept.  My God is a great and good God and my Church holds me up and keeps me going.
  2. FAMILY:  my family is pretty bizarre ... I have family I see/talk with all the time, some I only see/talk with occasionally and some I never see/talk with ... but yet I love them all.  They are a great gift for which I am always thankful.  I'm especially thankful for the family members that don't call or write or visit -- they make me evaluate what I'm doing: is it my fault ... could I do something better ... do they need me?  The family members who don't contact me are a blessing both for what they make me think about changing and also, and more importantly, for the chance I'm given to pray for them and for our relationship ... to pray that they may "come home" ... that I may be a source of help to them.
  3. FRIENDS: my friends tend to be an eclectic mix of folks ... and always have been.  When I was in undergrad, my friends came from all groups: the druggies, the hip and groovy, the geeks.  I got along with all of them.  My friends throughout life have helped me and allowed me to help them.  I have learned from them and taught them.  I have been prayed for by them and been given the chance to pray for them.  I have grown stronger in my Faith because of (or maybe even in spite of) their friendships. 
So please, on this day when our country says "thanks" ... remember first, to Whom we're giving our thanks and really think about what you're thankful for ... don't take anything for granted and know that there will always be others better off and worse off than you ... no matter where you are.

God's grace and blessings be on one and all .... I pray for you all everyday!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Exciting News and New, Exciting Designs

Almost two months ago, at the Fall Fiber Festival at Montpelier, I met a woman who owns the largest herd of cashmere goats in the eastern United States.  Jane McKinney, owner of Spring Gate Farm, has just started producing chashmere yarn from her championship goats and she needed a hand-knits designer to help create patterns to show the true quality of the fiber. 

Enter ME ... moi ... I! (If I had a video, I'd show me doing the happy dance for the past 6 weeks!)

Yep, I now am the hand-knits designer for Spring Gate Farms and have started designing using this amazing fiber ... so soft it feels like butter but is strong enough to hold up to "frogging" when small errors occur (at 9 or 10 sts to the inch ... yes, I make mistakes!)  This stuff is so amazingly warm -- EIGHT(!) times warmer than wool and yet 1/3 lighter .... and the fiber's feel must be knit to be believed.  Yes, it is truly worth the cost to knit this stuff.

I'll be posting about my designs as they go "live" ... so please check back often on my By Hand, With Heart site as the Spring Gate/By Hand With Heart partnership evolves ... we'd love to have you along for the ride.


Birthdays: Happy 8th to the caboose!

Today is BamBam's 8th birthday ...   he was born while we were in Austria.
  ... in our family spanning many years, all remember the Sunday we brought BamBam into the world:  we delivered the tyke in the Scheibbs County hospital ... on the Feast of Christ the King, 2002! 

He was baptized on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the ancient church attached to the school dh attended ...

He has been a gift to us ever since!  Full of love and fun and football ... he is all boy and all-loving!

God bless you, BamBam on your 8th birthday ... and may we share many, many more!