Monday, September 29, 2014

Our first Michaelmas. (It's all about the carrots.)

I don't know how it is that we have never before celebrated this feast. It has been on my list for years now, but we never seemed to fit it in. Maybe it is because it follows the big "birthday season" of late September, when our three oldest children have their birthdays. Maybe it is because it falls just before the feast of St. Therese, my patron, on October 1. Whatever the reason, we just haven't made it happen.

This year, we finally did it. We pulled it off. We had a lovely Michaelmas Feast of the Archangels.

This feast feels like a kickoff to fall, which is my favorite time of year. (I say that about lots of times of year, but I mean it the most about fall. Really.) It celebrates the three archangels mentioned in scripture: St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael. For more information on the tradition of the archangels, here's a great article.

We had a roasted chicken with red potatoes, these whiskey-glazed carrots, and blackberry cobbler. I meant to make a salad...there should always be a green vegetable...but I didn't. (It was fine, Mom. No one died.)

The cobbler and the chicken were delicious, but this feast is all about the carrots. You must try them. I could drink the sauce with a straw- it is that good.

The children each colored a picture of one of the archangels (these coloring pages from Waltzing Matilda are lovely if you don't want to draw your own) . Sam read the traditional prayer to St. Michael and a prayer to St. Gabriel and St. Raphael. We decorated the table for fall and added three angels from our nativity set (which, thankfully, has a host of angels). It wasn't complicated, but it felt festive- a perfect opening to a season of warmth and good food and celebrations.

A friend of mine growing up had a saying in his family: If you do something once and you like it, it's a tradition. (If you do it twice, it's a tradition even if you don't like it.)  I liked both the saying and the family, so I adopted it for my own.

We all agreed that we liked Michaelmas quite a bit, so that does it- it's our newest family tradition.

For more Michaelmas, try these links:

History, prayers and relevant readings about the Feast of the Archangels at Women for Faith and Family

Traditions, food and some great art at Two O's Plus More (where I first learned that I have been pronouncing Michaelmas incorrectly)

The recipe for the amazing whiskey-glazed carrots from The Pioneer Woman

Ideas for a family Michaelmas from Molly at Molly Makes Do

Kendra's crazy fun-looking devil piƱata celebration at Catholic All Year

A great overview of Michaelmas with traditional menus (and a legend about the Devil spitting on blackberries) from Haley at Carrots for Michaelmas

A video interview on Michaelmas of Haley by Bonnie at A Knotted Life (where you can hear Haley use the correct pronunciation!)

Archangel coloring pages at Waltzing Matilda

Prayers, recipes and activities for the Feast of the Archangels at Catholic Culture


Friday, September 19, 2014

Five-Minute Friday: Hold

I haven't found much time for writing here recently, partly because of some other writing projects and partly because my hands are full (as people keep informing me). I'm sharing at Blessed Is She today about our identity as Christians and our response to fear and darkness...please go check it out (and subscribe to the daily devotions if you haven't already- you can have beautiful reflections on the scriptures in your inbox every morning!)

If you're new here, welcome- I'm so happy to have you! I haven't written as much lately with the arrival of our new baby, but I hope you'll look around and enjoy your stay.

And now, for the little bit of writing I can manage, here is Five-Minute Friday. (For those unfamiliar, Five-Minute Friday is writing for five minutes in response to a one-word prompt. We don't overedit or worry about perfect composition. It's great therapy for perfectionists and a way to silence your inner critic. Then we share our posts with a community of writers so we can encourage each other.)

Today's prompt is Hold.

“You’ve sure got your hands full.”

Yes, I hear you. Yes, I do. They’re full…so full that I drop things. Sometimes it feels like trying to carry a load of laundry without a basket. Socks keep falling out, leaving a trail down the hallway from the dryer, evidence of all the small feet and mismatchedness around here.

They’re full, too, of crayon pictures and homemade play dough and favorite books (and always juggling requests to read that one again)…of card games and sidewalk chalk and Lego bits and pieces everywhere.

It’s too much to hold, really- too much for a pair of hands and arms that sometimes ache with their fullness. There’s a baby to burp and a dishwasher to unload and three sets of scraped knees to bandage. There are swings to push and curls to comb and tiny teeth to brush, and while the days feel incredibly long, there never seems to be enough time to do it all. How I long for an extra set of arms, or for bigger hands to help bear the weight.

There’s strength, though, in remembering that this is my vocation. I am called and chosen for this work, and as with any vocation, it is not reliant on my power or abilities. My work is mine, but my strength is God’s – and it is He that holds me in His hands, along with all the dishes and the laundry and the mess and the joy…and He won’t drop any of it.

For more Five-Minute Friday, head over to Kate's blog.

Monday, September 8, 2014

how I (almost) ruined Mary's birthday

When I opened the pantry this morning, there wasn't enough flour. I could have used a boxed mix, but there wasn't enough milk left after breakfast to make the frosting, anyway. 

I texted George to bring home some dessert. You can't really have a birthday party without dessert. Under my breath, I told Mary I was sorry and trusted she would understand.

After all, she is a mother. The Mother of Mothers.

I should have been more prepared, I thought, but I forgot until yesterday at Mass, when I remembered it was coming in early September and made a note to check the date- what day is today, anyway?- as we straggled in to find seats during the first verse of the opening hymn. We ended up in the overflow, in the daily Mass chapel, just under the watchful gaze of Mother Mary. She stood tall, holding her smiling Son, the picture of competent Motherhood.

I thought she looked a little disappointed in me.

As my kids flopped around in the pew, kicking each other and repeatedly dropping their books, I tried to keep myself together. It had been such a long week- the kind of week where everything just feels too hard, like forcing pieces into places they weren't meant to fit. Tears pressed and pricked the backs of my eyes. 

What am I even doing? I asked her, pulling Lucy out from under the row in front of ours. I'm not cut out for this.

Then suddenly, today was here and it was Monday again, and I had forgotten to remember that today was her birthday. As I picked up the dirty clothes and hoisted a crying child onto my hip while patting the fussy baby in the sling with my other hand, I felt it again.

I'm not doing a good enough job at this mothering thing.

The crying child, who turned out to have a fever, was clingy and weepy all day. She couldn't hide her frustration that I had a baby and two other children to tend to, also, and told me, "I wish you only loved me for your baby." The first-grader resisted all requests, refused to help clean up the books, and wouldn't sit in his chair at lunch time. I bounced around the house, singing, rocking, cajoling, encouraging, sweeping, wiping, and generally trying to keep the chaos from getting out of control. 

There was no chance of bringing order today. Today was a survive the chaos kind of day.

I tried to remember the me of a year ago, the one who wrote thank you notes promptly, ran lots of miles during nap time, and blogged about her family's humble celebrations of liturgical feasts. Now it was Mary's birthday, and we were having spaghetti with sauce from the jar for dinner and I couldn't even bake a cake.

Forget cake. I couldn't even get the dishwasher unloaded.

George got home with the box of spaghetti and the store-bought cupcakes. Sam painted a birthday picture for Mary "with her symbol and her color," he said, and solemnly taped it to the wall. I jiggled the baby and cleared away our school day and threw together a salad, and we gathered around the table. It was Nora's turn to choose the blessing, and our voices all joined together in her favorite: "Bless us, O Lord..." 

I studied all of their faces, and I was grateful.

I wasn't magically less tired or less overwhelmed.

I didn't instantly feel hopeful and bright about tomorrow.

I wasn't suddenly enthused about the potentially sleepless night ahead of me with the fussy baby and the feverish girl.

But into the back of my mind crept a friend of mine- a friend beloved of Mary, who says that Mary always gives you a gift on her birthday. Although I didn't remember asking for anything, I realized that I had already received it.

I had been sustained. Somehow, I made it through this day. I didn't yell at anyone. I kept everyone fed, changed, wiped, soothed, and safe. I made food and served it and cleaned it up. I washed and folded some clothes. I taught and read and sang and prayed. It wasn't perfect, and the bathrooms didn't get cleaned again, but I survived.

This feels like a gift....maybe a gift from a mother to her daughter. 

Thank you, Mother Mary...and happy birthday. Maybe I didn't ruin it, after all.

Monday, September 1, 2014

right words, right time

I have a real love for post it notes. I love all the types and sizes and colors- the giant pad ones that can stick on the wall for leading group discussions all the way down to the teensy pink and orange flag ones sticking out of my hymnal to mark the songs I need to play next. Writing things down helps me remember them better. I keep the visual post-it note cue around, too, just in case, but usually the act of scribbling the words on that bright paper and sticking it someplace is enough to fix the information in my mind.

I've always been a post-it note person when it comes to scripture, too. I remember my mom's old blue bedroom curtains, covering the window where we always stood in the mornings for her to fix our hair, and the faded yellow post-it note she had pinned there with a verse she wanted to remember:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.  --Ephesians 3:20-21

I followed her example, dutiful Sunday School pupil that I was, and wrote down the verses that I liked as I encountered them, posting the little yellow squares on the back of my bedroom door and around the edge of my mirror. As I grew, special verses seemed to show up at just the right moments, and I kept writing them down. By the time I left for college, I had a vast collection of neon paper squares decorating my car, my windows, my bathroom mirror, my desk and my computer monitor. There were verses I'd found encouraging, verses that comforted me, verses that reminded me of special people who had loved those same words or who had given them to me as exhortations at some point in my journey. I took a lot of them with me to school, and in my shared hall bathroom freshman year, I still posted a verse on the wall every week because I needed to see it there.

Lately, I haven't given as much thought to scripture. I read Bible stories with my children, and I try to go over the Sunday readings before Mass every week. (Mostly, this is because there's a good chance I won't hear them clearly when they are read at church and I'm juggling my children, a picture missal, several board books and a handful of ballpoint pens...sometimes, we're standing for the Gospel reading before I realize I haven't heard the Old Testament or the Epistle at all).

Maybe I am just distracted. Maybe I'm not paying enough attention. Maybe I just don't have as many encounters these days with people who quote Bible verses at me. Whatever the reason, I was surprised last week when the perfect verse showed up at the perfect time. In the middle of a tough day, I parked my three bigger kids at the lunch table and slowly walked with Baby Felix to the mailbox. Inside, I found a card from my cousin and her husband with a little blue baby buggy on the front. The message inside was crafted with the perfect combination of humor and support.

And then there was this:

There in the card, in my cousin's handwriting, the words of St. Paul to the church in Corinth had met me where I was, in my pajama bottoms at the mailbox with a fussy baby and a sinkful of dirty dishes waiting inside for me...the right words at just the right time.

These days, my hands are full, and my brain is busy, and I don't often find the time for in-depth Bible study like I used to enjoy, sitting with parallel texts and my seminary-trained husband and talking for hours about which Greek word was used there and what it could have meant in context. Right now, post-it notes with verses on them are about all I have (and sometimes, they need to show up in my mail box for me to pay attention!). Maybe you can relate to this. A lot of us are busy, but we still want to be able to read scripture and ponder it in our hearts.

That's why I am so excited to be involved with a new project called Blessed Is She.

Blessed Is She gives each of us a chance to reflect more deeply on scripture through short daily devotions written by faithful Catholic Christian women from different walks of life. Each devotion will be based on the day's scriptures in the lectionary. You can follow along on the facebook page, on the web site, or even subscribe via e-mail to have the day's reflection sent directly to your inbox...what could be easier? For those of you who love Instagram, some of our group are posting daily images with the verses there, also. It's kind of like a post-it note, really...only a lot more beautiful and less likely to stick to the bottom of your shoe.

Like this:

You can also follow Blessed Is She on Twitter. There is a Twitter chat scheduled tonight (September 1) at 9pm EST- follow along with the hashtag #blessedisshe.

I'm honored and delighted to be keeping company with this group of women as a writer for this project. I'm also grateful to have this opportunity to encounter the words of scripture and let them take root in my heart as I go about my life. Then, whenever my hands feel especially full, my heart and mind will be full, too- full of the right words at the right time.

I hope you will join us on this journey.