Friday, December 19, 2014

Busy Elves Tour

Advent starts out fairly slow and simple around here, then ramps up like crazy the last week or so. We do just a bit of decorating the first couple of weeks -- and do a good bit of preliminary behind-the-scenes planning (i.e., shopping).  Early hang a wreath with purple ribbon on our front door, trim our bulletin board in purple, and set up our Advent wreath and our little manger with the straw-incentive devotion for the children...

Our Advent calendar this year is a simple map of the Holy Land.
We've been moving a little image of the Holy Family, step
by step across the landscape to Bethlehem.  The first child up
and about gets to make the move.  (That's almost always William.)

Our manger with the straw is just out of the picture on a little
shelf just beneath the purple topper on the table beneath the
Blessed Mother and the Advent wreath... It's good and full
of soft hay, I'm happy to report!

But, now here we are -- less than a week to Christmas, and we have to scurry to get everything ready for Jesus' Birthday!  The children and I started the bare bones of the Nativity scene this past week, but Dominic is really the master of this art.  We were so relieved when he got the day off the work and could come help us finish it off in grand style!  

Dominic at the good ole' chop saw.
(The children decided today was "hat day."I don't know why; 
they just do that sort of thing sometimes.  Thus the chapeaus.
In case you wondered.)
 Come this way now, into the living room.  See what's going up on the venerable old green cabinet?
Starry sky installed, Dominic and company have begun working on the vertical "layers," here.
Since our house is so --
How shall I say?  Quaint?  Cute?  Compact?  Lacking horizontal space? 
-- we had to get creative and work up the wall for the Nativity scene...
Smile, William.  Thanks.
In the interest of full disclosure:  the house is a complete disaster today.  This small
sample of disarray doesn't do justice to the bedlam everywhere.

We think it's coming along amazingly -- but Dominic's not satisfied....  (We're
so not worried, though...  He always comes up with something spectacular.)

Meanwhile...  In the dining room, the girls are sharpening saw blades...

Because we have to be able to cut the Yule logs -- which mainly means the wood
that will keep us all from freezing this Christmas season...
...and because every girl should have "saw blade sharpening" in her repertoire of skills.
A little bit of holly and ivy on the book case -- and our old Franciscan monk
and nun that Gabriel found rummaging around out in storage bins today...
Everything, including the kitchen sink is starting to look Christmas-y.
(Check it out: more clean dishes on the drainboard than dirty dishes
in the sink. A miracle. Or beautifully efficient girls working behind the
scenes. Thanks, girls!)
The hand-carved Nativity Dan's parents brought us back from Bethlehem
a few years back.
Even a wreath on the bathroom door...
 And now, if you'd like, follow me outside, to the head elf's workshop...

Consider this an official pass to come in and have a look around.
Here we are, you see, at gift wrap central.
Got a nice snuggly fire going in Miss Hottentot.
(Need it, too; it's cold outside!)
Little wreath and candle over in the corner. (I love candles!)
My little Hummel, reading girl.  I've had her forever, but haven't
had a good place for her.  She seems very happy right here, though.
The daybed is hard to resist sometimes...  but too much work to do
to test it out just now...
Been drinking chai tea, using my early Christmas gift from Dan,
my electric kettle.  That drawer right there is full of tea.  :)
And my little cabinet.  My uncle's collection of little lead
Christmas skaters and a happy antique store find,
 our vintage sparkly Christmas town, seem made to
go in here.
The bulletin board above my desk we made from an old screen door
 with cork behind it. Isn't the original red paint awesome? 
And this is my favorite seat in my favorite place in the whole world.
How 'bout you snuggle in on the daybed and we'll have a cuppa
tea and a chat?
Oh, did you spy my little mouse house?  You have to get
a closer look.  This was so much fun to "build."  The children
built me my little summer kitchen hide-away -- and all I
constructed was this little hole in the wall.  But it makes me
smile.  Climb down there and have a look.
See?  That's Mr. and Mrs. Mouze.  (They're the mousie equivalent
of me and Dan.  See Mr. Mouze's glasses -- just like Dan's.)
Yes, see?  There's a light in there -- another couple mice, a rug,
 and an indoor Christmas tree.  

Got a little better view from here. Don't tell the Mouzes, but I'm
working on a welcome mat for them for Christmas --  and
maybe a covered porch.  Still working out the details...
 But now -- I guess I'd better get busy.  Have to go make some dinner. (Have no idea what!) and then have a slew more gifts to wrap!  So, yeah...  I'll spare you -- for now anyway.

"No more pictures!"
I'll update with some shots of the finished Nativity when Dominic gives me the thumbs up!

Thanks for coming by for a visit!  Blessings in the last week of preparation!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Starlight Cookies for the Last Week of Advent

We found this recipe for a gift mix online a couple years ago and adapted it to use as special Advent cookies. They would make lovely pre-Christmas gifts, made into mix kits, with the following instructions printed out and tied on with a ribbon. You could also commemorate the journey of St. Joseph and Mary with your own family by making these the last week of Advent.

* To print out for the tags:

Starlight Cookies
To be made on or for Christmas Eve
in Honor of our Blessed Mother's and St. Joseph's
Journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem

Contained in this jar:

Chopped Walnuts to represent the rocky road the little family traveled on
White chocolate chips for the stars in the sky
Dried cranberries whose tartness symbolize the doors shut to Mary and Joseph
Sugar to represent the snow
Brown sugar for the brown hills of Bethlehem
Rolled oats to symbolize the animals in the stable where they found shelter
Flour for the simple goodness of the shepherds in the fields they passed

To make the cookies:

Think of the preparation St. Joseph and Our Blessed Mother must have made for this journey to Bethlehem: Heat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper.

For the light of Heaven that shined down on them: In a medium bowl, beat together 1/2 cup softened butter, 1 egg, and 1 tsp of vanilla until fluffy.

Consider the difficulties of the journey: Add the entire jar of ingredients, and mix until well blended. Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheets

Imagine the long trek across the barren desert: Bake for 8 - 10 minutes, or until edges brown.

Remember the Holy Family's arrival at the stable; anticipate Jesus' coming: Cool on baking sheets or remove to cool on wire racks.

Appreciate the joy and promise of His birth: Enjoy eating them!

Have a Merry and Blessed Christmas!

(Makes app. 18 cookies.)

* To prepare the jar ingredients:

layer the following..

1 C plus 2 T all-purpose flour
mixed thoroughly with
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

*followed by*

1/2 C rolled oats
1/3 C packed brown sugar
1/3 C sugar1/2 C dried cranberries
1/2 C white chocolate chips
1/2 C chopped pecans

Here's how they looked when we were all done. We capped with a square of Christmas fabric and tied with a bit of ribbon and a scrap of garland, then added our instruction card, like so:

But the possibilities for decorating are only limited by your imagination!

Happy last week of Advent!  May all your preparations for the birth of our Savior be filled with the sweetness of that starlit night.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Christmas Tour of the White Board

Welcome to Davis command central: the white board.  It takes up half of one wall in the kitchen, right by the door to the dining room, and since pretty much everyone comes into the house through the kitchen door, it's practically impossible to miss it.

See Stan Laurel there?  Dominic drew that for us right after he helped mount the white board, shortly after we moved here in September.  Since no one can bear to erase Stanley, we've turned him into an ever-changing Ollie and Stanley quote billboard, and as the kids have pretty much memorized every one of their films, the quotes are endless.   

Over here in the bottom corner we have the inevitable Christmas countdown.  Theresa lettered this for us -- and found the perfect little magnet to add. (This is from yesterday; today finds us at only 15 more days to go!)

Then there's this:
The last one was:"Don't be a cotton headed Ninny Muggins!"
We're doing Christmas-themed advice right now...

And, last but not least, we have our lists -- the white board's chief composition, the content which holds it together and gives it meaning.  First, there's the general shopping list:

Followed by more specific Christmas baking lists, like this one for Magi Bread:

We've been building a "movies-we-want-to-buy" list for a while now:

But this is my favorite list:

Because the sole of Gabe's sneaker has come loose -- and guess what he couldn't find to fix it himself?  Such a guy.
"No duct tape in this house? What the heck?"

(Possibly the best thing Gabe could find in his stocking Christmas morning?)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Examples of Love and Kindness

Best pals: Penny, the kitties' "stepmom" snuggling into a corner of the woodpile outside our dining room window this morning. (No worries; when it's really cold, they're all piled up in the mudroom!) See the little white kitten, closest to Penny's nose? That's Jeeves; he's a deaf white kitten, which is usually a death sentence for a barn cat -- but not for this one. See how Jeeves' ear looks all wet and slobbery? That's where Penny has been kissing him.  He has a particular Guardian Angel in our St. Bernard. Pretty neat. We get a big kick out of the sweetness of this gentle giantess.
The big kids will remember another deaf white barn cat (Felix) that lived to a venerable old age because of a guardian doggy --, Anthony (of sainted memory)... I think the heavenly appointed Guardian Angel of the cats and dogs pairs up animals like this sometimes. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Mom's Advent Meditations: the Immaculate Conception

Today's feast is a special one for me.  Because Bernadette is my middle name, I've always had a particular fondness for anything relating to the maiden of Lourdes. She was always my saint and I was her little girl -- and wise and loving patron that she is, she took my hand when I was a child and through the years has led me to the beautiful Lady in the Grotto, to Our Lady, the Immaculate Conception.  As an adult I consecrated myself in St. Lous de Montfort's Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary under the title of  the Immaculate Conception, an association that glows with meaning, especially in the Advent season; Lourdes and Bethlehem are connected by heavenly bonds.

Most of us, I think, imagine Bethlehem in sparkling starlight, ringing with the song of angels, warm in the love of the Holy Family.  Likewise, everything about Lourdes is beautiful and magical, tingling with the music of heaven: the beauty of the image of Our Lady of Lourdes, the yellow roses under her feet, the blooming of the rectory's roses in winter, the miraculous spring bubbling up under the hands of St. Bernadette -- but, most importantly, Our Lady's message there at the grotto, her affirmation that she is -- and always has been - the Immaculate Conception.  That she was conceived without the stain of sin.  That she remained always perfect and pure, as the Mother of God must be and is -- there at the side of the manger in Bethlehem, here with us, the Universal Church, our Mediatrix of All Grace.  The thought transports my soul.  

But, then there are the other sides of the stories, the pictures that ground them in earthly reality:  the abject poverty of Bernadette's family; the derision she received for being the recipient of such a divine gift, an ignorant, backward, and unhealthy child of no obvious merit; the lowly place the Queen of Heaven chose to be seen -- literally the town dump.  Such contradictions: the glory of heaven, the grittiness of earth. The scene mirrors Bethlehem and the lowly stable where the King of Heaven chose to be born... The glow of heaven in the most unlikely places.

It's a wondrous thing to know, isn't it?  That God can appear anywhere -- in the most unlikely of places.  That He actually seems to seek these places out -- like the Good Shepherd climbing down the cliff, hunting out His stray lambs.  He comes to dwell in the hearts that are prepared and beautiful in their love for Him, but He also comes into the poorest and most unprepared of hearts, seeking a place for Himself. 
In my best days and my worst, Christ seeks to dwell in my soul and His Mother's only interest is to help me make this soul of mine a good place for Him to be.  On this feast honoring the perfect purity of the Mother of God, I hope and pray that I can always keep Mary, the Immaculate Conception, my close companion, that I can manage to make her a comfortable and constant place in my heart.  Where she is, He is; Jesus is always at home where His Mother is staying.

  Mother Immaculate, make my heart a Bethlehem!

Know Mary; Know Jesus
No Mary; No Jesus
*  Story of St. Bernadette and Our Lady of Lourdes, here.

*  History of the feast the Immaculate Conception here.

*  A wonderful prayer for the day, one of those recommended for those consecrated to Our Blessed Mother, but a beautiful devotion for anyone anywhere:  The Prayers of the Little Crown of Mary

*  The Catholic Toolbox has a slew of links to activities, coloring pages, and recipes, here.

*  As always, Catholic Cuisine shares some wonderful recipe ideas for today's feast: look here.

*  Charlotte's (Waltzing Matilda's) lovely coloring page here.

* More beautiful coloring page links for the day here, many specifically for the Immaculate Conception (others for the Annunciation, etc.) -- we printed off this one:

Our Best Wishes for a Happy, Holy
Feast of the Immaculate Conception!

On this Holy Day of Obligation
  we unite our prayers with our friends and family at  holy Mass...

The ideal way to be close, even when we're far away!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Will the Real St. Nicholas Please Stand Up?

St. Nicholas

What Did He Look Like?
 Well...  He didn't look like this:

Rather, he would have dressed like any other ecclesiastic of the fourth century, because that's what he really was -- the bishop (actually the archbishop) of Myra, in present-day Turkey.  At that time it was a Greek province of the Roman Empire*, though its customs and traditions would have leaned to eastern.  So, His Excellency would likely have worn a semblance of robes as were common in an eastern border country under Roman rule.

Which, actually, didn't look like this, either:

You see, when officiating, the garb of a bishop wouldn't have included a bishop's miter, as it's commonly believed that miters didn't begin to be worn until after the tenth century.  And, in fact, it's likely that his clerical vestments may not have differed at all from his street clothes, as this differentiation didn't start to occur until after the time of Constantine, well into the fourth century, and wasn't regularized throughout the Church until a couple centuries after the death of St. Nicholas.

Don't be mistaken, though, as iconography and symbolism are important ingredients of our Faith, it's logical and appropriate that St. Nicholas is almost always depicted wearing red -- as it's the traditional color of all bishops -- and that he's shown with the mitre and crozier of more modern times, as his office in the Church is a key part of his identity.

But what did he look like?  Interestingly, this is something we actually do know. St. Nicholas is one of the few ancient saints whose entire skeletal relics remain intact.  During a chapel restoration in the 1950s, the Archdiocese of Bari permitted a group of carefully chosen scientists to photograph and measure the bones of  St. Nicholas.  In doing so, they discovered that he was barely five feet tall and had a broken nose.  What is also fascinating, is that, by studying the skull and using modern forensic technology, scientists have reconstructed what the St. Nicholas would really have looked like in real life!  Go here to have a look!

What Did He Do?
The real St. Nicholas was a holy and well-loved Religious of the early Church, known for his courage and defense of the Faith during the persecutions of Diocletian.  He was imprisoned, in fact, for his Faith during the reign of Diocletian, and one wonders if it was during this time that he got the broken nose!  But, after the persecutions ended, the work didn't end for the early Church leaders.  St. Nicholas, in his see at Myra, was particularly called to erase the scourge of paganism  and brought about the destruction of many pagan temples in his diocese, most notably that of the Temple of Artemis in Lycia.

 He also attended the Council of Nicaea in 325  and for his staunch defense of the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity earned the title of "Defender of Orthodoxy" which is still remembered (particularly in the Eastern Church). During the Nicaean Council, legend has it that St. Nicholas became so frustrated with the foolishness of the arguments against the Trinity, that during the debates, he flew across the room and actually slapped Arius, his chief opponent!  For this affront to the dignity of the council, St. Nicholas was put in prison to cool off, but in a miracle, he was freed of his chains by Christ, Himself, and clothed by the Blessed Mother in the omophorion, the stole that became the traditional garb of the eastern bishops.
The slap.  You can mess with
St. Nick, but don't mess with
the Holy Trinity!

But, aside from his ecclesiastical duties as a bishop and defender of the Faith, St Nicholas was known as a holy man, one especially likeable and warm-hearted.  As you might guess, he really was known for his devotion to the care of the poor, and the legend of his secret gifts to the needy appear to be perfectly true.  But, aside from his practical works of mercy, he was known, even in his day as a Wonder Worker;  many miracles are included in his biography, a large portion of which concern helping and protecting children.  He has earned for this reason the title of patron of children -- but it's more likely that when he brought gifts to needy children, it was in the way of food and warm clothing --  not toys or candy.

Where Did He Live?

St. Nicholas was born in 270 A.D., the son of wealthy parents in the Greek city of Patara, which was at that time a province of the Roman Empire. This area is now the southern coast of Turkey. When he was a young man, St. Nicholas went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he stayed for a while, but upon returning, stopped in Myra (which is now the town of Demre), where he was elected Bishop.  He traveled in his duties, but remained bishop of the see of Myra for the rest of his life.

Why He is Sometimes Called St. Nicholas of Bari?

When St. Nicholas died on December 6th, in the year 343, his body was entombed in Myra, but in the early 11th century,  Muslims took over the town, and, in the confusion, sailors from Bari, Italy (against the wishes of the attending monks in Myra) removed the remains, taking them back with them to Bari, where St. Nicholas' relics remain to this day.   A beautiful basilica, the " Basilica di San Nicola" was completed to house the relics in the middle of the twelfth century, this becoming a great pilgrimage center in the Middle Ages.
 From the earliest days, miraculous oil or "manna" had exuded from the tomb and continued to do so after the relics' removal from Myra.The "Manna" (sometimes called "Myrrh") of St. Nicholas is reported to flow from the relics even to this day.

Is there Devotion to St. Nicholas in Our Day?

Unfortunately, regardless of  all the wonder and drama and sanctity of his life, the real St. Nicholas has gotten somewhat lost in the confusion with Santa Claus in our western world.  His feast day is on the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran calendars, but he's probably better known for one legendary act of mercy than for anything else in his long ,busy, very holy life.  Just about anyone who has any idea of  "St. Nick" can tell about the three daughters who lacked dowries to get married.  The story goes that the Bishop, hearing of their need, snuck into the family's home by night and slipped the necessary funds into the girls' stockings that had been hanging to dry by the fireplace.  This story is so ancient that the biographers of the saint believe that it has some foundation in fact.  And it is from this work of mercy that our Christmas stocking tradition proceeds.  Thus most American's single recollection of the life of our saint.


According to the details given in Wikipedia, there are still many world wide traditions associated with St. Nicholas that aren't  connected to our American Santa Claus, though some of them represent the forerunners of his tradition.  From the Netherlands to Serbia and all over the world, December 6th is remembered in feast and custom honoring St. Nicholas.  In celebration of his reknowned charity, gift-giving is usually part of the picture, of course.

And in the Church
We remember St. Nicholas in the Mass:

 Prayer of the Collect for December 6th

O God, who didst adorn by the workings of countless miracles the holy bishop Nicholas: grant, we beseech Thee, that by his merits and prayers we may be delivered from the flames of hell.  Through our Lord.....

Ways To Celebrate the Feastday?

To dive into a plethora of customs and ideas for crafts and cooking to celebrate the day, you can go to The St. Nicholas Center, most especially for the true story of our saint;  this site is an amazing resource -- the one from which I derived a lot of the facts you may have read here.  And, by all means, if you have any inclination at all toward baking for St. Nicholas Day or any of the feasts of December, Catholic Cuisine is thee go-to website.  For craft ideas, try Catholic Icing or run back over to the St. Nicholas Center for some ideas.

And for coloring pages (Gotta Have Coloring Pages!), there are several really good ones at the St. Nicholas Center, but the following icon is considered to actually most favor the real St. Nicholas:

Happy Feast of St. Nicholas!

St. Nicholas, Pray for us!

* * Yup,  reposted from 2012!