And then there was Easter

Clergy families around the world are heaving deep sighs this afternoon: We made it through Holy Week. Phew!

This year I made hot cross buns for our Easter morning breakfast, from this recipe ( They came out very well, though I will note that the dough was so sticky that it was almost impossible to work with when it came time to knead. Next year I will increase the flour by half a cup or so and see if that does the trick. They tasted just as they ought, and I am especially pleased with getting the icing right. Often I have trouble hitting the right consistency without going over, so this time I added my liquids a quarter-teaspoon at a time. That was a bit tedious, but it definitely paid off!

We also made “resurrection cookies,” sometimes called “empty tomb cookies,” though much better known just as meringue! The idea is that you recount the story of the crucifixion as you make the meringue cookies, giving each ingredient a symbolic interpretation. They get put into a warm oven overnight (which you seal up with masking tape to represent the seal on Jesus’s tomb), and when you get them out the next morning the cookies are hollow like the empty tomb — at least, that’s the idea.

This is the recipe I used for these, and they came out terribly. I mean, they’re passable as meringues, but they didn’t hollow out at all, or even set in the middle. They are also cloyingly sweet — almost inedible even to my (very) sweet tooth. Next year I will have to just use my regular recipe, which has less than half the sugar called for here, and I will leave the oven on for 10 minutes or so once the cookies are in before turning it off. I like the concept; the kids were pretty engaged; the only problem was the recipe.

Culinary adventures aside, it’s been a lovely Easter. We went to the church egg hunt yesterday (where a good time was had by all), the service this morning was beautiful, the choir played an excellent April Fools joke by coming in with Joy to the World after the intro to the Hallelujah Chorus (which we did sing properly afterwards, I hasten to assure you), everyone ate way too much sugar, and then we had simultaneous meltdowns circa 3 pm. As one does.

A blessed Easter to you and yours. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

A hymn for Good Friday

Ah, holy Jesus, how has thou offended, that we to judge thee have in hate pretended? By foes derided, by thine own rejected, O most afflicted!

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee! ‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee; I crucified thee.

For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation, thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation; thy death of anguish, and thy bitter passion, for my salvation.

Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered; the slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered. For our atonement, while we nothing heeded, God interceded.

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee, I will adore thee, and will ever pray thee: think on thy pity and thy love unswerving, not my deserving.

Johann Heermann (1630) / Johann Cruger (1899)

The Christmas that was

Twelfth night and Epiphany have come and gone, which means that Christmas is officially over for us. Yesterday we took down all of the decorations and got everything packed up and off to the storage room — and though the tree corner of the living room looks remarkably bare, it is also nice to have things all squared away.

This year I thought we’d try another experiment in our liturgical living project, which was to have a crack at celebrating all twelve days of Christmas. Now, when  we went into Christmas my plan wasn’t much more developed than that — which is definitely something to work on for this coming year, now that I have a better idea of the sorts of things we can do/manage. But my main idea was to have one special treat or activity per day, which we very nearly did. I think we missed a day or two — see: the lack of pre-planning — but on the whole I will still judge the experiment a success.

Here were some of our day’s activities:

  • Making a gingerbread house. We did this on Boxing Day and it went surprisingly smoothly considering that half of us are less than four years old. There was only a moderate amount of swearing, when I was trying to get the [expletive deleted] roof to stay on.
  • Writing thank-you cards. This was Dec 27th’s activity, and I was excited because Anselm has recently started writing his name. Of course, he refused to do it on any of the cards, so several of our recipients just got a half-hearted crayon line or two on his side of the page. Well, it’s the thought that counts, right? (The thought being mine, of course.)
  • We took a trip to a local Fire museum, which had many old and wonderful fire engines from the horse- and man-drawn days of bucket brigades etc. I would love to go back sometime without the kids so that I can read all the plaques. It had a kids’ discovery room with a real engine from the 1930s that we could climb around on, and a model train garden running for the holidays with many local landmarks to spot.
  • We ate the gingerbread house. That counts.
  • We took a whole-family trip to the library, which was special for the kids because usually Daddy is at work when we go.
  • I took the kids to a local indoor playground that had a lot of bounce houses, crazy slides, and the like. It was a huge hit; next time, though, I’d try to bring either my husband or a friend and so have a 1:1 adult:child ratio, because I definitely lost Anselm more than once.
  • My mom came to visit for a day on the way through to her mother’s. The kids were thrilled to see Nana, and my husband and I were thrilled to go out on an actual date to see The Last Jedi.
  • We went with my mom to visit my grandmother for a morning. She is 95 and lives in a wonderful retirement home about an hour and a half away from us. The kids warmed up well and had a very nice visit with great-grandmama, and of course were made pets of by all of the other residents.
  • We had a special feast for Twelfth Night, i.e. I put the tablecloth on and told the kids it was a special feast. Also there were cookies.

There were a few things I had thought of but that we didn’t get to, and there are other things that we did that I can’t, at this moment, quite remember. (Again, I can’t emphasize enough how last-minute all this was.) But even though the adults ran out of steam around halfway through, it was actually really lovely to celebrate Christmas as a season instead of just a day. It can feel so anti-climactic to have the whole long build-up of Advent and then have Christmas be over in just a day or two — this was a much more natural rhythm in many ways. Perhaps there is wisdom in the church’s historical patterns of fasts and feasts — who’d’ve thunk it!

The Jesse Tree

As part of our live-more-liturgically experiment, I thought that we would do a Jesse Tree during Advent this year. What is a Jesse Tree, you ask? Good question. I read a lot of Catholic mom blogs, and a lot of them seem to do Jesse Trees, but not many of them explain what it is. So I will explain.

Essentially, it is this: you make (or buy) a set of Christmas tree ornaments, one for each day in December. Each one has a picture and a scripture reference on it, and together they tell the salvation history narrative, from creation to Jesus’s birth. Every day, you read the scripture or tell the story of that day’s ornament, and put it up. (The name refers to Jesus as the shoot growing from the root of Jesse in Isaiah 11 and has a long history in Christian art.) The ornaments can go on your Christmas tree if you’ve put it up, or on a small purpose-built tree/stand/something that can go on a dining room table or wherever is handy. We’re putting them on our tree.

Now, there are ways to make this more or less complicated. Some sets have auxiliary ornaments that can be used if it’s a longer Advent, or omitted if shorter like this year. I decided just to go with days in December, on account of them always being the same; nothing extra to keep track of is good by me. Some years we’ll start a little before Advent, or a little ways in to it, but that’s no big deal. I made the ornaments* just with pen and pencil crayon on card stock, which then got cut out, laminated (this step is fun), and strung. Very cheap, very simple, and hopefully very durable!

*If you google around, there are many different templates, lists of ornaments, etc. available. I found one with designs I mostly liked to copy, and when I wasn’t keen on what they used I would just look up other examples until I found something that worked.

So far I am willing to call this a success for us. Every night after dinner Anselm and Perpetua each get to eat a chocolate out of their advent calendar, and while they’re eating I show them the ornament and tell the story that goes with it. Then Anselm will pick one of us to help him put it up on the tree — high up out of Perpetua’s reach. And that’s it, really. Our tree just has lights and these ornaments on it; we’ll put on the rest of the decorations just before Christmas. Perpetua is still a bit young to be tracking with it, but Anselm is very excited to see which ornament is revealed every night, and it’s really helping him internalise the stories of the grand sweep of scripture. I certainly hope that the Jesse Tree becomes a long-lasting family tradition.

A feast for All Saints

One of the things my husband and I have been thinking about over the past couple of years is how to live our family life in greater harmony with the liturgical church calendar. We belong to a liturgical tradition rich in seasons, fasts, and feasts, and so want to start living those rhythms not just on Sundays but in our weekday lives as well. We started doing a more deliberate celebration of Advent when Anselm was about a year old — nothing complicated, just lighting Advent candles at dinner and singing a verse of O Come, O Come Emmanuel at the end of the meal. This year I decided to dip our toes (as it were) into the great feast of All Saints Day on November 1st.

What helped me want to do this was the recent realisation that 0% of celebrating the Christian year has to be elaborate; it just has to be different enough from our ordinary life that we sit up and take notice. The internet is full of very pinteresty blogs where you see homeschooled Catholic families of eight all dressed as their favourite saints and singing Salve Regina in perfect a capella counterpoint around the sumptuously decorated dinner table … and, well, that’s just not how we roll right now. And that’s perfectly fine. So instead of trying and failing to do something elaborate, I put out a table cloth, told the kids that the (regular) dinner I cooked was a special feast, and engaged in a little cultural appropriation synthesis by making pan de muerto for dessert. We read the Collect for All Saints and… that was about it! But it was enough.

I used this recipe for the pan de muerto — save the anise, which neither I nor my neighbours had on hand — and was pleased on the whole with how it came out.  It’s super yummy. The only thing that really surprised me was how large the loaf came out:

That was way more bread than I was expecting. I wonder if it needed to be punched down after the second rise? From the size I might guess so, but then again the interior texture was just what I expected it to be, so who knows. Maybe someone with more bread experience can tell me. We ate our fill, gave some to our next door neighbours, and used the rest for bread pudding so none of it went to waste — all the same, next year I think I will halve the recipe.

And yes, I think we will celebrate next year. Perhaps one day we’ll graduate to pinterest-level liturgical living. But for now, a table cloth and some special bread will do us just fine.

Five-Minute Friday: Rest

The thing about rest, it seems to me, is that either we don’t have enough and we start going crazy, or we have too much and we start going crazy. It’s a challenge to find the balance point.

Two summers ago, I was hit with some sort of mystery illness (“We think it’s probably a virus”, which is doctor-speak for “yeah, we have no idea what’s going on”) that laid me out for several weeks. I couldn’t eat much and I had no energy, and so work was out of the question and so was almost everything else. I just lay on the couch, resting, or trying to. I don’t really remember what-all I did; I dozed, I read, I probably watched a little too much tv. Sometimes I just sat there.

That was rest enforced by outside circumstances, and it drove me nuts. I was bored. I was sedentary, but I wasn’t really resting. My body was recuperating, but not much was going on with my soul.

I can contrast this with other parts of my life, where it felt like I was getting no rest at all. Work, church, school, other commitments… I was busy (and part of me likes to be busy), and I was exhausted. I wasn’t getting any real rest, and though my body was busy enough to get good sleep through sheer tiredness… again, my body was resting, but there wasn’t much going on with my soul.

Soul-rest is the real rest, I think. I’ve been learning something about it this Lent. I gave up tv (and movies, and youtube…) and so have been forced to do things with my off-hours that are actually restful. I’ve been practising piano, and colouring, and playing scrabble with Stan in the evenings. I’ve been cooking and sewing and writing. I’ve been reading more than usual. And in absence of noise, I’ve been sitting in the quiet.

I’m learning how to rest.

Link up with Lisa-Jo and others for Five-Minute Friday here