Monday, November 30, 2009

His primary rule was that no one could talk unless the subject was of general interest. Dad was the one who decided whether a topic was of general interest... Usually at the start of a meal, while Mother served up the plates at one end of the table, Dad served up the day's topic of conversation at the other end.
[Frank & Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen]

Here's a plug for one of the Church Ladies' favorite books about the twelve Gilbreth children's hijinks. Don't let the Steve Martin movie spoil this classic book for you.

With all the upcoming holiday meals, the Church Ladies urge you to take the time to read a newspaper or two. That way, you'll have plenty of general interest topics to share, making for scintillating conversation and lively meal-times. You can thank us later.

All our major attributes

You'll recognize us Church Ladies by our official sodality pins with our logo, as seen to the right....

But this brooch is pretty cute too.

Looking for Advent reading?

If you liked Andrew Gawrych's "The Cross, Our Only Hope: Daily Reflections in the Holy Cross Tradition," I would recommend the companion volumes, "The Gift of Hope: Advent and Christmas Reflections" and the "The Gift of the Cross: Lenten Reflections."

Compiled by one of the Congregation's youngest priests, the books feature a quote from the Constitutions, Father Sorin, or Bl. Basil Moreau, followed by a meditation by a member of the Holy Cross community (priests, brothers, and sisters).

In the wake of The Cross, Our Only Hope, and The Gift of the Cross, this accessible Advent resource offers a scripture verse and brief reflection for each day of Advent and the Christmas season and makes an affordable introduction to the themes of the Holy Cross spiritual tradition. Readers will experience the vision of the Congregation to educate both the mind and the heart, and its desire to make God known, loved, and served. Among other notable Holy Cross contributors to this booklet are Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., Joel Giallanza, C.S.C., Mary Ellen Vaughan, C.S.C., and Mary Ann Pajakowski, C.S.C. This resource is also ideal for use in parishes and schools during the Advent and Christmas season, and because it is not associated with any particular calendar year, it can be used perennially.

The Christmas Novena

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold. In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God! to hear my prayer and grant my desires, through the merits of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of His Blessed Mother. Amen.

To be prayed 15 times a day from St Andrew's day until Christmas.

Image: Nativity with Sts Lawrence & Andrew

Advent Annunciations (Monday of the first week of Advent)

Office of the Virgin. Matins. Annunciation in architectural setting with God and angels above
Attributed to Maitre Francois

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Do I have the best in-laws ever, or what?

My family received a wooden Advent calendar. Each day has a little cubby behind a door. Here is the calendar on our home altar. I can't wait to find out what's inside.

Advent Annunciations (First Sunday of Advent)

Cestello Annunciation, Sandro Botticelli
1489-1490, tempera on panel

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thrifty Gifts - Handkerchiefs

Does the gentleman in your life have a practical nature? Has he been known to rescue damsels in distress, or aid small children in a moment of need? If so, carrying a handkerchief may be a good practice for him.

Directions for a monogrammed handkerchief:
  • Try different fonts on your computer and when you come up with something you like, print your monogram. You also might try using the WordArt feature on Microsoft Publisher or Word. The examples on the right were made this way.
  • Use a light table (or my favorite - tape your paper to a sunny window) and position a purchased handkerchief over the monogram. Tape the fabric in place also.
  • Use a washable fabric pen or a sharp pencil to transfer your design to the fabric.
  • Embroider your monogram using a single strand of embroidery floss, taking care to make the back look as nice as possible.
  • Handkerchief - about $2 each
  • Embroidery floss - $0.20
  • Hoop and fine needle - You already have these, right?
Directions for a lace-edged handkerchief:
Ladies handkerchiefs are typically smaller than men's, but you could still use a purchased men's handkerchief as your starting point and rehem it to the proper size. (or purchase 1/3 yard of a fine cotton fabric like batiste or organdy)
Dimensions - the finished fabric portion of a ladies handkerchief should be about 10" X 10"
Purchase 1 3/8 yard of a soft, washable lace, and hand-sew it to the hem.
This one was made by crocheting a lace edge onto cotton/poly fabric. The pattern is from a pattern booklet published in 1944 by American Thread Company, and makes a piece of flat lace. I adapted it for this use by making a foundation round of crocheted single crochets around the hem of my fabric square, and then a round of chain 2, skip 2 single crochets, double crochet in next single crochet. Do three double crochets/chain 2 in each corner.
Pattern for lace as printed:
  • Slip stitch into mesh, ch 5, dc in same mesh, *ch 1, dc in next mesh, ch 1, dc, ch 3, dc in next mesh, repeat from *across row, turn.
  • 3rd Row. Sl st into loop, ch 7, sl st in 4th st from hook for picot, ch 4, sl st in same space for picot, ch 4, sl st in same space for picot, * ch 3, skip 1 dc, sc in next dc, ch 3, dc in next 3 ch loop, ch 4, sl st in top of dc for picot, ch 4, sl st in same space for picot, ch 4, sl st in same space for picot, repeat from * across row.

Friday, November 27, 2009

No comment.

While I appreciate the concept of seeing Christ present in the everyday circumstances of life, that iron is in deplorable condition. (Okay, I guess I did have a comment.)

Black Friday, Frugal Holidays

Do not be conformed to this world
but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
that you may prove what is the will of God,
what is good and acceptable and perfect.
[Rm 12, 2]

Every year, Christmas merchandise comes out earlier and earlier. And no matter how much you try to resist the commercialism, to focus on Advent and the Nativity, it's hard to escape all the hype. As an alternative, some families I know have adopted the Hispanic tradition of exchanging gifts on the Epiphany (plus side: most things go on post-Christmas sales). I remain partial to my own family's tradition of reading from the Gospel of Matthew, Midnight Mass, followed by a family nativity play or caroling with a late supper; presents are opened the next morning.

The ideas below, culled from a variety of sources, tend more to an Advent-Nativity vision of Christmas. I am a strong proponent of store-bought Christmas purchases being completed before Advent begins. Then, in all these domestic preparations, there is more time to make our hearts ready to receive baby Jesus.

Some Frugal Holiday gift ideas, from Ravelry's Frugal Homemakers' Group
-Christmas Mason Jar Cookies (dry ingredients layered in jars)
-homemade cloth grocery bags, with a baked treat or snack inside
-homemade aprons
-homemade jam (see the Church Ladies' slow cooker apple butter & marmalade recipes)
-homemade vanilla
-homemade candy
-gift certificate to the grocery store
-Lavender sachets
-herbs in pots
-a ream of colored computer paper and a box of markers/crayons
-Festive Fivers (gifts for under 5 GBP)

Frugal Luxuries suggests
-Soup mixes in jars
-home-made epsom salt bath salts

Amy Dacyczyn of the Tightwad Gazette
-Hot cocoa mix
-A book of stamps & stationery
-A fruit stone wreath (spray painted gold or silver, then accentuated with evergreens)
-finishing a china pattern
-shoveling snow for an elderly family member or neighbor
-candlesticks & napkin rings made from hardware components

The Church Ladies would add:
-subscription to a newspaper or magazine
-donations to charity (Heifer is fun for kids)
-a small themed basket. To pick up all components affordably, this involves keeping your eyes open, but a few small gifts can come together nicely (A British mystery theme: Agatha Christie novel, PD James novel, box of tea, jar of lemon curd, warm socks or slippers for reading on a winter's night. For the armchair traveler: a book like Little Saint or On Pilgrimage, some coffee, a package of biscotti, and a vintage souvenir)
-Gift certificate to the local coffee shop
-supplies or tool for a hobby (may not be a surprise, but well received)
-the Priests' Christmas Basket can also be modified for almost anyone- throw in a DVD and some candy, and you have a stay at home date for a married couple

People, look East, the time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house as fair as you're able,
Trim the hearth, and set the table.
People, look east, and sing today:
Love, the Guest, is on the way.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

"Thus out of small beginnings greater things
have been produced by His Hand that made
all things of nothing and gives being to all things that are;
and, as one small candle may light a thousand,
the light here kindled hath shone unto many,
yea in some sort to our whole nation."

[William Bradford, on Plymouth Plantation]

Image source

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thrifty Gifts - Recipe Collection

It's amazing to consider how much our celebration of holidays is tied to particular foods. For example, I know this week's Thanksgiving celebration will include my mom's cranberry relish. Half the family doesn't even like it, but Thanksgiving just wouldn't be the same if it weren't there!

Keep your family's traditions alive by collecting holiday recipes and publishing them in some form. The simplest way would be to just recopy them onto recipe cards. If you're giving this gift to several people, you may want to type them to print in some kind of book form. Use a 3-ring binder and plastic sleeves, or a printer could laminate the cover and spiral bind or comb bind it. Including photos of family holidays over the years, or recording people's holiday memories would make this something to truly treasure. If you have great-grandma's hand written recipes, by all means include a copy of the original, perhaps with the recipe retyped underneath.

My mother-in-law was a great cook, but she almost never worked with written recipes. I tried to get her bread recipe once and the directions included things like "just add a handful of this, and a little bit of that, and you know you'll get a good loaf when the dough feels right." Hmmm... If your family's favorites are only available in this form, your assignment during the upcoming holidays is to cook alongside this person and record some recipes. Your recipe collection may not be ready to give this Christmas, but you'll have the beginnings of a fabulous gift for next year!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thrifty Gifts - Movie Night Basket

This year, someone on my list will be receiving this movie night gift.
It includes:
  • A DVD ($5 from Wal-Mart)
  • Popcorn ($1.50 for a 3-pack, although I buy it by the case at a warehouse store, so it's significantly less)
  • Theater box candy ($1)
  • Popcorn boxes ($1 each at Target)
  • Container for everything ($1 at Target)
  • You get extra thoughtfulness points if you include a note explaining why you chose that particular movie.
  • It's always a nice idea to include the gift receipt in case the recipient already owns the movie you've chosen.
  • No craft skills necessary for this gift! :-)
  • This also makes a great date night or birthday gift.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thrifty Gifts - Framed Snapshots

Last year, my husband received a framed photo of he and our daughter dancing at her wedding. Every time we look at it, a flood of happy memories come back as we recall all the blessings of the event!

  • Choose a photo that evokes a strong memory. You can bring the actual photo to the photo department of a discount store (Target or Wal-Mart), warehouse store (like Sam's Club or Costco), drug store (like Walgreens), or of course, a store that specializes in such work. You can also bring a scan of the photo on a disk or flash drive, you can print directly from your camera's memory card or, if you're working with film, you can have a negative printed.
  • A reprint of a photo. Prices at the warehouse store I shop at start at $0.13 for a 4X6 print and are $1.49 for an 8X10.
  • A frame. You can spend a lot or a little on a frame. It's not unusual to find them in second-hand stores, or dollar stores, and you can probably purchase it with a coupon at the bigger craft stores.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thrifty Gifts - Satin Pillowcase

A satin pillowcase is an easy sewing project and a thoughtful gift for a little child who likes the smooth edge of their blankie or an who just appreciates the luxury of sleeping on satin.

  1. Purchase any kind of satiny fabric, but check the washing instructions on the end of the fabric bolt. It's important that it be machine washable unless you want to hand wash it. (And I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to feel obligated to hand wash anything a 2-year-old sleeps with every night.) A standard pillowcase is 20 X 30 inches so you'll need to get one yard of a standard 44" wide fabric. Crepe back satin and flannel-backed satin are both good choices, but there are others that will work also.
  2. Cut two pieces that are 21 X 36 inches.
  3. Pin them together (right sides facing), and sew three edges, leaving one of the narrow ends open. It looks like a pillowcase already, doesn't it?
  4. Measure 1 inch and iron it under (toward the wrong side of the fabric - the inside of the pillowcase), creating the first part of the hem.
  5. Measure 4 more inches and iron them under also leaving no unfinished edges showing. (Basically, you've folded the fabric under twice at this point.) Pin things in place and sew the hem.
  6. Turn the pillowcase right side out and you're done!
Expenses: Thread and fabric

Additional ideas: Pair this gift with other bedtime items such as a copy of Goodnight Moon, slippers, or a relaxing lavender-scented candle.

While we're on a pillowcase theme, you could also purchase a regular cotton/polyester pillowcase in a solid color and use fabric markers to decorate it with a prayer (perhaps a prayer to your Guardian Angel) and other appropriate art (do a search for "angel coloring pages" if you'd like something to copy).

  • Sharpie markers are not the best choice for drawing on fabric. They seem like they'd work (you certainly can't launder out that stray mark you got on your shirt), but the colors aren't stable. Some bleed onto other clothing in the laundry and some fade over time (green turns to yellow, etc.). I know this from experience.
  • I don't think you can combine these two ideas. I've never tried it, but I think using fabric markers on satin fabric would yield unsatisfactory results.

How to throw a game-watch in 30 minutes-

What to do if you discover you are hosting a game-watch 30 minutes prior to kick-off.

Step 1: Get the chili going. Fortunately I had a batch in the freezer, but you can make chili in 30 minutes, and throw in some BBQ sauce to make up for the shortened simmering time.

Step 2: Bake cornbread. (20 minutes)

Step 3: Scour the fridge for appropriate toppings. I found: spaghetti (left-over from the previous night's dinner party, and perfect for the Cincinnati province friar), a scallion, grated cheddar cheese, and some sundried tomato ricotta spread (close enough to sour cream). You don't need to much of anything.

Step 4: Locate beverages. I had a fridge full of Mortal Sin beer, but if necessary, you can come up with a kicky signature cocktail or punch that works with the odds and ends you have on hand.

Step 5: Here come the Irish!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Presentation of the Virgin

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. [Phl 4, 8]

Image source: detail of Tintoretto's Presentation of the Virgin

Friday, November 20, 2009

Thrifty Gifts - A hand knit or crocheted scarf

Scarfs are really in style again this year and what could be nicer than one that is hand made with the wearer in mind?

  1. Join Ravelry. It's a knit and crochet site that offers tons of directions and patterns (among other things). It's free to join; you'll just need to set up an account.
  2. Browse their patterns. If I limit my search to free crocheted scarf pattern, I get 108 pages of choices! If I limit it to free knit scarf patterns, there are 201 PAGES of choices! It'll take you longer to choose than it will to actually make the scarf!
  3. Buy the yarn you'll need. Here's where the expense comes in, but consider your budget and purchase a yarn that fits. I made the scarf in the photo from two skeins of yarn that I got for a great price in a clearance bin last year.
Almost everyone wears a scarf and would appreciate a custom made one. Hint: If you make this gift for a little girl, make a matching scarf for her doll or teddy bear. I guarantee it'll be a huge hit.

The Catechesis of Beauty

From the Holy Father's Wednesday Audience (November 18, 2009)
Dear brothers and sisters, I now wish to underline two elements of Romanesque and Gothic art, which are also useful for us.

The first: the works of art born in Europe in past centuries are incomprehensible if one does not take into account the religious soul that inspired them. Marc Chagall, an artist who has always given testimony of the encounter between aesthetics and faith, wrote that "for centuries painters have dyed their brush in that colored alphabet that is the Bible." When faith, celebrated in a particular way in the liturgy, encounters art, a profound synchrony is created, because both can and want to praise God, making the Invisible visible. I would like to share this in the meeting with artists on Nov. 21, renewing that proposal of friendship between Christian spirituality and art, desired by my venerated predecessors, in particular by the Servants of God Paul VI and John Paul II.

The second element: the force of the Romanesque style and the splendor of the Gothic cathedrals remind us that the via pilchritudinis, the way of beauty, is a privileged and fascinating way to approach the Mystery of God. What is beauty, which writers, poets, musicians, and artists contemplate and translate into their language, if not the reflection of the splendor of the Eternal Word made flesh? St. Augustine states: "Ask the beauty of the earth, ask the beauty of the sea, ask the beauty of the ample and diffused air. Ask the beauty of heaven, ask the order of the stars, ask the sun, which with its splendor brightens the day; ask the moon, which with its clarity moderates the darkness of night. Ask the beasts that move in the water, that walk on the earth, that fly in the air: souls that hide, bodies that show themselves; the visible that lets itself be guided, the invisible that guides. Ask them! All will answer you: Look at us, we are beautiful! Their beauty makes them known. This mutable beauty, who has created it if not Immutable Beauty?" (Sermo CCXLI, 2: PL 38, 1134).

Dear brothers and sisters, may the Lord help us to rediscover the way of beauty as one of the ways, perhaps the most attractive and fascinating, to be able to find and love God.
Cloche Tip: Zenit

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hosting a Successful Christmas Cookie Exchange

Many would agree that baking is an essential part of Christmas preparations, but it can be time-consuming and expensive to create the variety of goodies needed for attractive cookie trays for your celebrations. A cookie exchange can be an efficient solution. Instead of baking 12 dozen different cookies, I can bake 12 dozen of my favorites and get 11 friends to do the same. We simply get together for an exchange and each person goes home with 1 dozen each of 12 different kinds of cookie.


Do you want your event to have a social dimension or is it primarily functional? (i.e. get the cookies and go home)
I participate in an exchange advertised through my home school co-op. An email goes out to about 80 families and there are typically 10-20 who are interested. These are divided into 1 or 2 groups depending on the number. (Since we've agreed, we neither want nor need 20 dozen cookies ;-) It sounds a little anti-social, but we really do just trade cookies and go. There is lots of social time with this group at other events.
I know someone else who uses her annual cookie exchange as an excuse to get together with old college friends. It's the same invitation list every year and they have a high participation rate.
Co-workers, neighbors, and members of your parish could all be good focus groups for a successful cookie exchange.
It's very common to invite participants to bring a few extra goodies to serve with some tea or coffee during the exchange.
  1. WHEN: Include date and time. If your exchange has a more functional character, be sure to stress that everyone MUST be on time. You really can't complete your trading until everyone is there. Social gatherings can be a little more relaxed in this regard.
  2. WHERE: Make it a central location with space to spread out a little.
  3. R.S.V.P.: This essential step will allow the organizer to determine how many cookies each person bakes.
  4. DEFINE WHAT YOU WANT PEOPLE TO BRING: Is fudge okay? Are chocolate chip cookies okay? Are bars okay? (For those of you who are not mid-westerners, bars are basically cookie-like things baked in a cake pan and cut into serving sized pieces.) My exchange specifies "something a little different than the usual 'brown & round'."
  5. REPLY TO YOUR PARTICIPANTS with the final number they should bring and remind them of the details.
  1. Choose a cookie, bar, or candy that stores well. Festive, colorful Christmas goodies are appreciated.
  2. Don't stress about duplication-make what you love! It's fun to see all the creativity!
  3. Packaging: please put in re-sealable plastic bags, disposable plastic containers or on a sturdy disposable plate wrapped with foil/plastic wrap.
  4. Add a label to identify the goodies & include the recipe, if you'd like. You could also bring a few extras for sampling.
  5. Bring a large basket/box to carry in and out your goodies.

Thrifty Gifts - Treasured Photos

In the interest of keeping holiday spending under control and giving gifts with meaning, the Church Ladies will be posting a few ideas for free or very low cost gifts with a personal touch.

For example, last year I borrowed my parents' photo albums and scanned a bunch of photos from their early married and parenting years. I burned the photos to disk and gave one to each of my siblings and to my parents. Everyone loved seeing the old photos and they were delighted to get their own copies.

This idea could easily work with a more focused theme also, such as "Our Vacation to Yellowstone," "Family Birthdays," "Our Years Together in School," etc.

  1. I used my desktop scanner/copier/printer to scan each photo.
  2. The default setting on my scanner is 200 dpi (dots per inch, right?) but I upped that to 400 for all but the biggest photos (and 600 dpi for some really small ones). That would allow them to make good quality prints if they wanted.
  3. I saved each image as a JPEG file, and gave it a name which included the year and information written on the back of the photo, if possible.
  4. I transferred each into a folder and just burned the entire folder onto a disk.
  5. The nice part is that I could work on this project at the same time as answering emails or reading the morning news online. The first photo took a little time but after that it was pretty routine; it did not take my full attention.
Cost: the price of the disks and my time.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Purple is the New Red (and Green)

Well, sort of.

It is easy to be in sync with the liturgical season by just thinking "purple and rose" instead of the traditional red and green.
  1. I keep all my Advent decorations in a separate box so it's easy to pull it out soon, and I don't have to sort through Christmas things to find what I'm looking for.
  2. These days, retailers have a huge selection of decorations in all sorts of colors. I can easily go to my local Target* and find a nice selection of purple ornaments and lights. (And that's just one retailer. Do a computer search for "purple ornaments" you you'll get pages and pages of ideas.)
  3. Bows, wire-edged ribbon, and lots of other sparkle-y things also come in purple and make festive additions to a bathroom mirror, your door's wreath, or wherever else you decorate.
  4. I know of one family who likes to put up their tree early. They decorate with purple lights during Advent and replace them with clear lights and Christmas ornaments after their children go to bed on Christmas Eve.
  5. Purchase or make a purple table runner. You can find many beautiful fabrics in the decorator section of a fabric store that are typically intended for upholstery or draperies. Most often they are 54 inches wide - a generous length for a table runner. If the design looks good in this crosswise direction, you'd only need to purchase half a yard of fabric and hem the edges to get a 16" X 52" runner. If the design looks best the other way, purchase the length you want the finished product to be (and you'll have enough fabric to make runners for two friends).
  6. Change your family altar to reflect the season. A picture of the Annunciation seated on a purple placemat (or cloth napkin) is a simple reminder of the season. You could also place your empty crèche (with a few animals and a shepherd milling about) on a purple cloth.
  7. Collect images of the Annunciation and display them around your house. The Church Ladies are planning to post a number of them here throughout the season of Advent. These high-quality images could easily be printed and framed, or simply stuck on your refrigerator or saved as your computer's background.
*Disclaimer: Church Ladies have no particular connection to Target or any other retailer and do not receive any financial compensation from the promotion or sale of products mentioned here.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Patron saints are here!

The Patron Saints drawing for 2010 has begun! We're starting a bit ahead of the liturgical new year due to Thanksgiving travel.

UPDATE: The combox is closed. If you would like a patron saint, please email us at psochurchladies(at)gmail(dot)com.

The Church Ladies are happy to share their list of saints with families and teachers so you can have your own drawings- just drop us an email.

All the blessings of the season!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

To the victor, the spoils

I won five times tonight at the annual Knights of Columbus spaghetti dinner & raffle!

Great Italian food, good company, and a lot of yield on the $5 in tickets I bought.

My spoils:
3 bottles (Cream sherry, 2004 Chianti, and Metaxa)
3 fabrics (2 yards red silk, 2 yards red patterned silk, 1 yard purple batik)
Scary Mary devotional plate (for the Epiphany Yankee Swap)
3 plastic utility totes
1 travel case

Props to the diocese of La Crosse

For including women religious on their diocesan vocations poster. And as a former Milwaukee resident, thanks for the bishop!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Oh, Kitchen Scale, How Do I Love Thee?

My kitchen scale is this model, found for less than half of retail at Tuesday Morning.

When it comes to kitchen gadgets, I, like Alton Brown, try to eschew single-use items in favor of tools that serve many different purposes (my beloved waffle maker being the notable exception to this rule). In that vein, it should hardly be surprising that my kitchen scale ranks among my all-time favorites. Among the ways it earns its place on my rather limited countertops:
  • European recipes, which are now readily available thanks to the internet, often use weights instead of measures
  • Bread recipes that give weights for the flour produce a much more consistent product than measures (I compared once on a recipe that gave both, and found that a weight that should have measured 1 c. by volume was only 3/4!)
  • Invaluable for changing the yield for recipes that call for 1 (15-ounce) can, etc., or for when your container size doesn't match up to those in the recipe. Fresh vegetables are also often called for by weight (e.g. 2 pounds of potatoes)
  • Portioning out hard-to-measure types of pasta (2oz. dry pasta = 1 serving, regardless of shape)
  • Not sure if you have enough yarn to finish that second sock or glove? Weigh the finished item, then the remaining yarn, and compare. If you're the type to plan ahead, you can use the scale to wind two exactly equal balls of yarn before you begin.
  • Know exactly how much yarn you used for on a project, and how much is left by weighing the last partial skein. You can figure out the yards per ounce by dividing the amounts on the label. If both a weight and length aren't given, look up the yarn on Ravelry's database (registration required), or wind off and weigh 10-20 yards and use that figure.
  • Use to estimate postage when you aren't sure whether to stick that extra stamp on.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Just in time for the gift giving season -

Music From The Vatican - Alma Mater is the first release on Geffen records of modern classical music from the Choir of the Philharmonic Academy of Rome and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra featuring prayers recited and sung by Pope Benedict XVI recorded during His Marian pilgrimages by Vatican Radio.

The Holy Father is accompanied by The Choir of the Philharmonic Academy of Rome, conducted by Monsignor Pablo Colino, as well as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Monsignor Colino stated: "I can say with certainty that Pope Ratzinger has a wonderful musicality. I have known six Popes and none could sing as well as him or were as musically aware as he is: This will be evident when people listen to the album."

Songs include: Regina Coeli, Advocata Nostra, Sancta Dei Genitrix and Auxilium Cristianorum.

A press release on the album's Web page reported that the proceeds from sales "will be used to provide music education for underprivileged children around the world."

The release date is November 23, but you can order an advance copy from Amazon.

Cloche Tip: Zenit

Eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

-Lt. John McCrae

Image source

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"And I got to help."

Altar Boy by Vincenzo Irolli (Source)

"The Mom" at Shoved to Them offers a beautiful reflection on her son's first Mass as an altar boy:
My eldest son served his first Mass today. Dressed in the traditional black and white, with his hands perfectly folded, he took slow, measured steps up the aisle as my heart swelled within me and my eyes brimmed with tears.

Here was my tiny baby, the one who should have died, the one who shouldn't be able to hear, the one who shouldn't be able to do so many things. Here was the boy who brought me faith walking solemnly behind the crucifix.

He snuck out of the sacristy before Mass to show me how splendid he looked this morning.

"Mom, I look like a priest. Did you ever think you would see me looking like a priest?"

How does a mother answer that except to smile with her heart shining in her eyes, caress a still smooth cheek and then hurry him back to where he should be?
Read the rest here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Advent Hymns.

I love Christmas, really I do! But I love Advent too, and I've typically found the joy I experience at Christmas is directly proportional to the effort I put into first celebrating this season of preparation. One of the things that gets in the way for me is the lack of appropriate music. The radio is either Christmas-themed or secular winter music, and I don't have anything on my iPod beyond O Come, O Come Emmanuel and a little chant.

I did find a book of piano music compiled and arranged by Alan Jemison as part of his St. John Bosco Hymn Collection (Volume 1 - Advent Hymns), so at least my piano-playing daughter can fill our home with nice music for the season. My set has a spiral binding so it sits open on the piano and it came with sung recordings of all the music, which is helpful for those pieces I've never heard before. It's a great selection! He also offers lots of other piano and violin music of traditional Catholic hymns for beginning musicians.

You have a few more weeks until Advent begins, but since his site is kind of low-tech and all orders must be mailed in, I thought I'd post this early.

Just another day in the life of a Church Lady

This was the scene in my laundry a couple of weeks ago. I should note that I'm not, at the moment, a parish sacristan or anything of the sort; they just sort of found their way over to me. I really shouldn't be surprised at this point.

A couple of tips I've learned from experience: dish soap + a bit of scrubbing seems to be the best way to remove lipstick from a purificator (and, please, if you're going to be receiving under both species, keep the lipstick light, both in the application and the color!). Secondly, if you find yourself in such a situation, and without laundry starch, just fold the linens straight out of the washing machine and press them on a good, hot setting. The steam leaves them nice and crisp.

Hint of the Day: Cook Twice, Wash Once

If you serve a roast (bird or bone-in beef joint) for Sunday dinner, you can cut down on dishes and make your Monday simpler by making pot-au-feu (aka carcass soup) if dinner is prepared in a dish that can be used on the stove and in the oven. Or, if you cooked your roast in the slow cooker, that will work for this purpose too.

Put the (unwashed) roasting pan/slow cooker insert used for cooking the meat in the fridge overnight. You want all those nice juices that congealed on the bottom of the pan; any vegetables or stuffing left behind will add to the flavor of your soup. If your pan/insert is ceramic, bring it to room temperature so it won't explode when exposed to heat. Add enough water to cover the bones, and boil/slow cooker high for 45 minutes to separate the meat from the bones. Strain the soup through a colander, and return the liquid to the cooking pan. Discard any skin, bones, or cartilage; return the meat to the pan.

At this stage, you can add vegetables, like diced onions, carrots, or potatoes to the pot. I usually throw in a bouillon cube and some sage or tarragon, and simmer it for another half-hour, or until the vegetables are tender. The gelatin content of the bones will thicken your soup naturally, but you can also add some cornstarch dissolved in water for a creamier soup. Shortly before serving, you could also stir in some frozen peas or dry noodles. Serve with hearty bread for an easy meal. Plus, your roasting pan will be so much easier to clean!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

"'Not like the Bible? Jane, Jane, this will never do. If anyone doesn't like the Bible, there's either something wrong with him or the way he was introduced to it... The Bible is a wonderful book, my Jane. Full of corking good stories and the greatest poetry in the world. Full of the most amazingly human 'human nature.' Full of incredible, ageless wisdom and truth and beauty and common sense.'

"...After all, Jane found it did not require a miracle to make her like the Bible. She and dad went to the shore every Sunday afternoon and he read to her from it. Jane loved those Sunday afternoons. They took their suppers with them and ate them squatted on the sand... she loved dad's voice reading to her... And she loved the little comments he made as he read, things that made the verses come alive for her. She had never thought there was anything like that in the Bible. But then, he did not read about the knops and taches."

-L.M. Montgomery, Jane of Lantern Hill

What a lovely way to share the faith!

Image source

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The humble safety pin

A Church Lady's knitting bag shouldn't be without a few safety pins.

Here is what a safety pin can do for you:
-Prior to your cast-on (and I'm partial to the cable) wind up extra yarn for seaming and pin it in place. One less end to weave in!
-Find a safety pin the same length as your increase/decrease row interval. For easy knitting on the go, if you are increasing/decreasing every inch, attach a safety pin that length into the increase/decrease, and use it to measure your progress. When you get to the next interval, unhook and repeat.
-Much better than straight pins for anchoring seaming
-Use it to thread elastic
-Use as a stitch holder for patterned socks

Friday, November 6, 2009

Book of Hours: November

During the course of some Church Lady research, I came across a Book of Hours illuminated by the Limbourg brothers in the 15th century. Each month's illustration shows life in that era. The illumination for November features a peasant feeding acorns to a pig. See all the months here: Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry.

Image source

As the evenings grow longer

One of our favorite evening pastimes has always been reading aloud. In the old country, when I could do it in German, I would read what amounted eventually to a small library, while the family would be knitting, darning, or whittling. Among the books were historical novels, which led quite naturally into talking and discussing the period of that time; short stories; and one or the other of the great novels of world literature. Stevenson’s Treasure Island , Kipling’s Kim and, of course, his Mowgli Stories delighted the younger listeners. Such readings would go on over several weeks; we would hurry from supper into the library and settle around the fireplace for a few hours’ intense enjoyment of one of the world’s literary masterpieces. (In this way a great many Christmas gifts got finished, too.) Quite apart from acquainting us with the best works of the world’s great writers, it cannot be stressed enough that reading as a group is altogether different from reading for oneself.

Family reading provides another valuable thing in great danger of dropping out of our lives — the ability to form an opinion and state it — which is the very essence of group discussion. As the children grow up, the books will change in character. There will be biographies of saints, books on the spiritual life, and books of philosophical character. The discussions that grow quite naturally from our readings may later be long to our children’s most cherished memories.

[Maria Trapp, Around the Year with the Trapp Family]

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Preparing for Advent

... the Church, especially during Advent and Lent and above all at the Easter Vigil, re-reads and re-lives the great events of salvation history in the "today" of her liturgy.
-Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1095

Every year I lament the commercialism of
the holiday season and how it is nearly impossible to truly prepare for and celebrate the birth of our Savior in the midst of the annual flurry of greed. Not surprisingly, Church Ladies have learned the key to staying focused is to live life in the rhythm of the Church and to focus on Advent.

One way to do this is to use a Jesse Tree to track God's amazing plan of salvation from the fall of man to the birth of Christ. Reading each day's Bible story and adding its representative ornament to the tree gives us a small-scale sense of the waiting and the longing of the Jewish people for the promised Messiah.

There are several on-line resources for making your own Jesse tree symbols including ones here, and here. You can also buy a kit to make your own. (This kit is designed by someone from my parish and several years ago a number of ladies I know got together and made theirs in a cooperative effort. It was a fun day and we all went home with completed projects.)(NB - As a general rule, Church Ladies are NOT in favor of felt banners, but I will admit that it was a good medium for this project - versatile, cheap, and easy for children to manipulate the pieces.) I'd love to do this project using miniatures. I can picture the delight on my godchildren's faces as they handle the tiny apple, sandal, and coat of many colors! (But I do think it would be quite a project to assemble a full collection.)

Once you have your ornaments, what to do with them?
  • If you're one of those families who loves putting a Christmas tree up early, consider starting your decorations with lights only and making it an Advent Tree as you add each day's Jesse Tree symbol. On Christmas Eve you could replace all the Jesse Tree ornaments with your regular ones as you prepare to celebrate the Christmas season.
  • Make a small wooden tree like the one pictured above and simply slide each day's symbol onto one of the dowel arms.
  • Hang each day's symbol onto a mantle or a window where it will be a visible reminder of your waiting.

Book Review: The Holy Mass

(A quick note: This post is totally unsolicited by the publisher. I just really like this book.)

I mentioned in a previous post the book The Holy Mass by Dom Prosper Gueranger. Originally published in the 19th century, this work has been republished by Baronius Press.

The Holy Mass is a step-by-step explanation of the order of the Mass. Being from the 19th century, the Mass in question is Tridentine. Of course, there are lots of similarities between that and the Novus Ordo (an explanation of the Gloria or Credo is just as applicable for either Mass), and that makes this a great introduction to the Tridentine Mass, as well as a great source for digging a little deeper into the whys of the Mass.

The book is clearly divided into sections that stand alone, so it’s entirely possible to flip to a particular section that interests you at the time and put it down after that.

It also has an Order of the Mass in the back (Latin and English), which is a nice feature. Since there’s no proper texts included (obviously – this isn’t a missal after all), this section is more of a reference than anything, but it’s nice to have back there.

Finally, I just have to mention the physical nature of the book itself. It’s the perfect size for carrying in your purse or church lady bag, with a hard cover and (!) ribbon marker. The paper is nicer than average, too, making this a lovely volume that will last for years.

All in all, I highly recommend this book for yourself or for anyone who is just getting introduced to the old Mass, or who’s interested in learning more about the Mass.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mantilla the Hon

Famous ecclesiastical fashionista, Mantilla Amontillado (Father Longenecker's guest blogger, and one of his alter egos) uses her impeccable taste in all things ecclesial and her degree in Ecclesiastical Haberdashery from Salamanca University to comment on a wide variety of topics of interest to Church Ladies. Her basic philosophy is as follows:
I say, if you're going to be a Catholic look and sound like a Catholic. Throw out the polyester. Bring in polyphony. Those cheap see through cassock albs are surplus. Bring back the cassock and the surplice. Throw out the people of the parish parade. Bring in the procession with lots of brocade. Men should know their place: it's wearing lots of lace. Forget the reform of the reform. We're talking revolution of the reform.

Mantilla on Beauty and Truth: "Now I'm realizing that when I see that polyester chasuble with felt grapes on it, it's okay to be a little bit angry. When I see a church that looks like a cross between a slaughterhouse and a dunce cap and feel angry, that's okay, because ugliness is next to Godlessness. But when I see this nice brocade vestment or this antependium made out of this nice tapestry or I see a gothic chasuble in dark purple silk, or an altar boy wearing a lace cotta or a nun praying in a full habit it is okay for me to be happy because beauty is truth and truth beauty and this is all you need to know..."

Mantilla on Altar Dressings: "And what if you are going to visit someone important or maybe go to a wedding? Do you wear flip flops and a T-shirt? No you do not. You dress up you know? Well, it is the same thing with what you do with the chalice on the altar. You should make it beautiful, after all, you know the Mass is a kind of wedding banquet. It's the marriage supper of the Lamb. So you put the purificator over the chalice, and then the paten on top with the priest's host, and then the veil on top of that and then the burse with the corporal inside."

Mantilla Goes to Mass: "I go to this mass not long ago at another parish, and no, I'm not going to tell you which one, but Fr. Elvis comes in and he's got this kind of a game show approach to the liturgy. You know? I thought he was going to say, "Mantilla, today is your lucky day! Come on down and let's make a deal!" But he didn't he sort of saunters in and says, "Howya all doin' today? Anybody from Cincinnati? How are the Red Sox doin'? I heard this story once about this girl who wore red socks...The Lord be with you." You know what I mean? Well, I'm sitting there and my fan is going faster and faster, and it's not because of the flies I can tell you."

Mantilla on Clergy Hats: "I tell you someting. Listen. Whenever I see a priest in a hat it gives me what do you call it? Goose bumples. I get this shiver go right down my back and for the longest time I don't know why. Any other priest comes marching into mass and I maybe just yawn and flick my fan out and chase away a fly. Then we get this new priest in the parish and he's wearing the biretta. Wow! I give my friend Salsarita an elbow in the ribs, "Salsa, will you look at that new priest! He's wearing a biretta!" I haven't seen one these in years and it makes me think about priests in hats. I like it when a priest wears a hat, and maybe, you know, this is one of the nice things about being Catholic, that the priests put on headgear."

As you may have guessed, she has many more opinions and all are worth reading. Visit the Standing On My Head blog to read them all, and Father Longenecker - more Mantilla, please!

What's on your needles?

The weather's getting colder, Christmas is getting short, it's knitting season. So what's in your knitting (or crocheting basket) right now? I'll go first. I have a tendency to have more than one project going at once, and the holiday season just makes that worse. Here's what I've got going on:

Fingerless gloves to fill that gap between bare hands and all-out glovedness (and be usable for winter photography). I'm using sock yarn, which is fantastic to work with.

A Christmas present scarf. The recipient picked out the yarn, so I'm not spoiling anything by posting this picture, but the pattern itself is a surprise. I have to put in a plug for the yarn (Berroco Comfort), which is the nicest acrylic I've ever used.

A lace-patterned sweater (for myself!). The pattern is really easy, but it's been put aside for now in favor of gift knitting.

This has yet to be started, but will be a scarf/hat for a cousin.

So, what are you working now, for yourself or as gifts? Post in the comments below (feel free to link to a post on your own blog or a ravelry page). I can't wait to see what you're making!

Juan Diego & Elizabeth of Hungary teach Religious Ed

Last night, there was an All Saints presentation at The Parish. Sts Juan Diego & Elizabeth of Hungary were in attendance.

"Juan's" tablecloth... er, tilma

The classic St Elizabeth's bread, shaped like a rose. Therese and I started baking and handing this bread out on her feast day when we were students at Our Lady's University.

This one's for all the Pious Men

Reverend Know-it-all answers: "What's it like being a priest?"

Happy feast of St Charles Borromeo, patron of seminarians!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Year For Priests: Minimum Requirements

Last Sunday I picked up a helpful little pamphlet entitled Five Ways to Support My Parish Priest published by Our Sunday Visitor, with an imprimatur by the Church Ladies' beloved Bishop D'Arcy. For the reasonable price of only $14.95 for 50 the first thing I'd recommend you do is purchase some to distribute at your parish.*

I suppose the five points outlined would be radically new levels of support for some, but Church Ladies will recognize them as minimum requirements:

  1. Pray for your priest and let him know you are doing so. Private prayer, certainly, but also consider ways you can publicly pray for your priest.

o The United States Council of Catholic Bishops has a lovely prayer on their site available for distribution. Our bishops recommend it be prayed "during the Prayers of the Faithful, at the conclusion of Mass, and/or at the various meetings of the parish community."

o In our parish, we’ve just started a project where families can adopt a priest and pray for him specifically. We’ve identified 26 priests who serve our parish by hearing confessions, leading retreats, filling in for Masses, etc. We created a card for each which includes a little bit about him (including his photo, a brief bio on his primary assignment and how he serves our parish), and a prayer. The cards are randomly distributed to all the students in our religious educations program and families are encouraged to pray for "their priest" throughout the year.

  1. Actively participate in your parish life. Go to Mass, volunteer to support the various ministries and programs there, and donate money to keep things running.

o Now obviously going to Mass is a given. (If you are not joyfully and prayerfully attending the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at least one time each week, I am directing my most stern Church Lady look at you right now. You feel repentant, don't you?)

o But go beyond that and consider what you can give back to your parish community. I am positive they need catechists, people to serve coffee after Mass, people to help with funeral hospitality, people to distribute food baskets during the holidays, people to do basic office tasks, people to lead the Rosary before Masses - the list is endless. One thing I love about my parish is its commitment to plugging everyone into some kind of volunteer service. It builds up our community life exponentially and allows us to use our combined humble talents for great works of service to our beloved Lord.

o And obviously, this take some money as well. Do your part and give 10% whenever possible.

3. Have realistic expectations.

o Yes, your priest is acting in the person of Christ for your parish. No, he is not God. Your priest needs support, affirmation, rest, nutritious food and yes, even regular time off and vacations. He will be better able to serve you if he gets these things so do what you can to make them happen.

4. Refuse to be part of the problem.

o Avoid gossip, criticism, and negativity toward your priest (and priesthood in general) in every form. Gossip is sin, so call it what it is and avoid it just as you would every other sin. Undue criticism and a generally negative attitude does nothing to build up parish life.

o It is particularly damaging for your children to hear you criticizing your priest on the way home each Sunday. Go out of your way to find positive things to say and save the rest for private conversation between adults.

5. Show appreciation!

o Church Lady Lucy has posted several ideas over the years for tangible ways you can show appreciation for your priest.

o Notes of appreciation are always a wonderful surprise and even an email will serve the purpose if you’re pressed for time. Just be careful that you don’t ruin the gift by attaching some condition to it (“Thank you, Father, for praying the Roman Canon and wearing those beautiful vestments yesterday. I look forward to the day when you'll finally be able to do something about the music also.") Be sincere and save your suggestions for another opportunity.

*Of course, you'll want to check with your parish office for policies on distributing materials first.