Saturday, December 28, 2013

Martyrs and the Persecution of Priests

An altarpiece at the Shrine church.
If you get off I-90 in the middle of upstate New York near Auriesville and travel a few miles along a hilly rural road, you may find yourself at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Martyrs. The Shrine is the location of a church dedicated to the North American Martyrs, and it is in this location that the Jesuit priest St. Issac Jogues and his companions the Jesuit brother St. René Goupil and a layman St. John Lalande were martyred. Fifteen years after their death, St. Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656.

Looking out from the bluff, you can see the Mohawk River winding its way through the rolling countryside, and try to imagine the days when it was untamed wilderness and the Jesuit missionaries struggled to bring the Gospel to the people of this “new” land. The lived with great hostility and suffered many physical deprivations, but they did it out of love of God and the truth.

The Shrine also honors the North American martyrs of Canada, one of them being the priest St. Jean de Brebeuf , a missionary Jesuit to the Hurons who was captured by a group of Iroquis, brutally tortured, and martyred. During his time as a missionary he learned the Huron language and wrote this beautiful Huron Carol (translated into English by Jesse Edgar Middleton):

‘Twas in the moon of winter-time
When all the birds had fled,
That mighty Gitchi Manitou
Sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim,
And wandering hunter heard the hymn:
“Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.”

Within a lodge of broken bark
The tender Babe was found,
A ragged robe of rabbit skin
Enwrapp’d His beauty round;
But as the hunter braves drew nigh,
The angel song rang loud and high…
“Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.”

The earliest moon of wintertime
Is not so round and fair
As was the ring of glory
On the helpless infant there.
The chiefs from far before him knelt
With gifts of fox and beaver pelt.
“Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.”

O children of the forest free,
O sons of Manitou,
The Holy Child of earth and heaven
Is born today for you.
Come kneel before the radiant Boy
Who brings you beauty, peace and joy.
“Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.”

We need the beauty of the Christmas story today as much as ever. The little babe, God become Man, is greater for humanity than anyone could ever have imagined. And that is the message that the missionary priests brought to the first American people. During our modern time, where there are priests are failing to live up to their priestly vocations and so many accused of horrendous things, I think about the Jesuit missionary priests who gave their lives to convert people so hostile to Christianity. While they succeeded in teaching some about the truth, there were others who hated them for it.

The Church has never been a stranger to hatred, and will not be until the second coming. I would like to believe that all our priests are living pure, holy lives, and God knows the truth. As faithful Catholics, we must pray for our priests and for the Church to become more holy. We can turn to the North American martyrs and ask their intercession for all priests that they live out fully their vocation to priesthood and holiness.

And then there is the Infant Jesus, who was adored and wondered at on the first Christmas and who we still adore today. Christmas is a reminder of the simple beauty of an infant who is God, who grew up to establish the Church, who ordained the first priests. There is something about the Child Jesus, the Holy Infant, that can help one remember the first love they had of God, that can rejuvenate a tired priest, who faces the daily hostility of the secular media and the suspicions of people who do not understand the choice to be celibate.

As the Church, we need to stand strong behind our priests and bishops, pray for them, and especially that the truth be made clear. And for those who have sadly done the things of which they are accused, we need to pray for their conversion and repentance. No matter how hostile the world becomes towards the Church and her clergy, it will not change that  God came to Earth and that “Jesus your King is born” and that we will have joy in Him.

We must remember those who were persecuted for their faith, have their heavenly reward, and that we are called to it as well. On this Feast of Stephen the first Christian martyr, we pray,

St. Stephen, pray for us.

Originally the at Truth and Charity...

The North American Martyrs.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

There is Nothing Wrong with Weddings or Baby Showers

Photo by our lovely photographer, Jen Pagano.

I came across this article today. The author, Valerie Anderson, has an interesting point that marriage is more important than weddings and raising a child is more important than having a huge party with expensive gifts, which she makes at the end of the article. The rest of the article she spends complaining about the thousands of dollars she spent on being in seven weddings, only two of which the couple are still married. Then she talks about how people throw huge baby showers and emphasize having a baby, instead of graduation from school or a promotion. I agree with her that way too much money is spent on unnecessary things, but I disagree with the idea that the celebrations are a problem.

I was married right out of college, and my husband and I had very little in savings. We asked out parents to help us fund our wedding. Between both sides of the family we had a budget of $8000 (Anderson spent $15,000 on a wedding reception for 125 people). We had nearly 200 guests (we both have large extended families) and the $8000 covered everything: the church, the hall, the musicians, our photographer and printed pictures, the caterer, the two-buck chuck we served to drink, my $99 clearance rack dress, the tux rental, the flowers, and more. We did everything for a little as possible and still worked to make it nice. We used my parents minivan instead of a limo. I picked a reasonably priced dress for the bridesmaids, and my husband and I picked the lowest tux we could find for the groomsmen. Our friend guests carpooled and roomed together, saving as much money as they could. It was simple, it was maybe a little bit cheap, but I think that it was a beautiful and wonderful day for everyone who came.

For me, my wedding was not about "being a princess," it was about entering into the Sacrament of Matrimony with my dearest love and best friend. It was about starting a life together, and hoping for children. It was about helping each other become saints. If that is not something to have a huge celebration for, I am not sure what is. We wanted our family and friends to celebrate with us, to pray for us, and to know that we wanted to share our life with them. That is what a wedding is about. Further, since we were fresh out of college, the wedding and the bridal showers provided us with the necessary material foundation for our life together. If it were not for my parent's generosity, we would have slept on a $99 futon for many years before we bought a mattress for ourselves. A wedding celebration is the community's way of supporting a young couple and helping them start their life together, and the great feast is the couple's and their parents' way of thanking everyone for their support. It is all very beautiful, if that is the way it is approached. As a potential bride, I was very skeptical of the over-commercialization of the wedding "industry", and I think my husband and I navigated it very well for a beautiful and affordable celebration.

Six months after my wedding, my family threw me a baby shower. We were bringing a new human into the world, and that is something to celebrate! A new human life to add to the perfection of the universe! It is a bit hard for a post-partum mother to have a huge party right after delivery, so during pregnancy when the baby is nicely cared for in the womb is a great time. Plus, while there are a lot of unnecessary baby items in the world, new parents really do appreciate the support of friends and family in purchasing all the necessities of baby care. One of my showers was a cloth diaper shower. My third baby is wearing those very same diapers I received as a shower gift three years ago. That shower was not a waste. And, while I did not receive gifts for getting a job after college (which I left to be a mom) or throw a huge party when a blog post gets lots of hits, I am pretty sure that these things are not as major as the existence of a new human being.

The new life of a human has the same value, even when the mom is a teen mom. She might even need more support and aid than a married mom does. This paragraph from the article is probably the worst:
"I've been to a handful of these showers, and the unmistakable fact is that the guest list is mostly other teenage girls, all cooing and fawning over their corpulent friend or cousin, shrieking excitedly as they present her with the beautiful bassinet that they all pitched in for, ignoring the fact that the endeavor she is embarking on will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and stunt her career opportunities for the rest of her life, not to mention the devastating impact on her social life."
Where are the adults in the life of the teenage girl, who needs their help more than ever? It is a great good that she is having a baby, even though it will "have devastating impact on her social life." And there is nothing wrong with her friends supporting her in this; I would rather that than them take her to a clinic to have her child murdered. I am not sure really how this complaint about teenage baby showers fits into the marriage article to begin with, but clearly Anderson is seeing children as a burden and not a blessing.  I think the movie Juno, where she gives her baby up for adoption, is a great example of how to act in the case of a teenage pregnancy, but, for those who are able, keeping and raising the child is beautiful as well.

I think that the complaint that Anderson makes should be about the over-commericalization of weddings and baby showers, not the things in themselves, but then that is easy for me to grasp since the value of thrift has been instilled in me my whole life.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Seven Quick Takes, Friday, Dec. 13

1. Happy Feast of St. Lucy! Today we had our traditional bread machine cinnamon rolls, and no child wore a white dress with candles on her head. It is a bit difficult to do it first thing in the morning when you are trying to get to 7:30am mass, so we saved them for after mass. I really wish I had better traditions for other saint's days. I think we do St. Nicholas and St. Lucy the best, but maybe that is because Advent is so full of rich liturgical traditions. I wonder if we could go all out like we do for Advent for every season.

2. I discovered that F (13 months) can climb down stairs yesterday. I was finishing up something in the basement, and spotted her almost to the top of the stairs. It was silly of me to have left her unwatched with the gate not blocking the stairs. I asked her to wait for me and not climb anymore, and instead of heeding my request she started carefully sliding down one stair at a time on her belly and feet first. She has the technique. Who needs walking when you can do stairs?

3. After over two weeks of various illnesses, we are healthy! Hooray! And I am feeling pretty relaxed about Advent and Christmas coming, so much so that I have not done any of the house cleaning I am supposed to be doing this afternoon. It will get done, just let me sit a few more minutes.

4. And it turns out that some of my husband's students have been reading my blog. I really have to be careful what I say now! I don't want to reveal anything that I wouldn't want students to know... So, here is my "shout out" to you, you students of Dr. Spencer. I hope you find him as entertaining as I do, and discuss a lot in class. That makes him happy.

5. We have not written any of our Christmas cards yet, but we will do them soon. The thing about coming from large extended families and having friends from college and two cities that we have lived in, means that we have lots of people we want to keep in touch with. Further, we enroll the intentions of all of our loved ones in the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest's Novena of Masses which begins on Christmas. I figure the best gift we can give at Christmas, is the gift of prayer. They have a beautiful shrine in Chicago to the Infant King, I would love to visit it someday, but for now check out: Why a Devotion to the Infant King?

6. G has been in a full onslaught of question asking these days. Everything has to have an explanation, and the explanation has to be further inquired upon. So, either she is cut out to be a philosopher or she is four. At lunch today, "Mom, how does the yoke get in the egg?" I wish I could remember more of her more memorable sayings, but, alas, for some reason, I always forget them when I come to write them down. Maybe I will plan on posting a list of her best questions in a post just for her.

7. I really should get to my housecleaning. I really, really need to mop before the baby wakes up. So, that is all folks. Have a nice weekend!

Linking up with Jen, who is hosting Seven Quick Takes!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Review: Diary of a Country Priest

My husband, M, and I have been searching for well-made, artistic, and beautiful Catholic movies since we were dating. We have watched our way through many recommendations, and enjoyed a great number of them, but rarely have we found ones as true to Catholicism as the 1951 French film Diary of a Country Priest (Journal d’un curé de campagne) directed by Robert Bresson. It is based very closely to the 1937 novel by Georges Bernanos, and while I have not yet read the novel myself, I have my husband’s word for it. (We are pretty picky about movies following the books they are based on, so you can trust me here.) The movie is not an action-packed thriller, but it is a story of a young priest’s soul as he faces ill-health while assigned to a hostile country parish.

The actor Claude Laydu, portrays the priest excellently, especially in how he shows the anguish and suffering he experiences in his lonely life. The priest essentially has no friends, except for a mentor priest in a neighboring parish, and not even a name in the script, simply “Priest of Ambricourt.” The story is told from the priest’s point of view, largely narrated from his diary. It is a very intimate encounter with this simple priest as you hear his innermost thoughts. You can really see and feel his loneliness before others and before God, and how he uses his suffering as an offering. It is not a coincidence that the film shows him celebrating the sacrifice of the Mass.

Most of the movie switches between him performing his duties as pastor to his parishioners and him writing in his journal and trying to pray. Even in his most despairing moments of physical and mental suffering,  the priest never stops seeking God and never stops trying to be God to others. He does not really even question why there is suffering and loneliness, but accepts them as part of human existence. He continues in his ministry, seeking to help others, despite their hostility, and is often at a loss as to if he is helping anyone at all. His fumbling about in his vocation is something very real and very true human experience. Do not we all wonder at the effectiveness of the good we are trying to do? And do we often seek God and wonder why we are unable to pray?

What makes this movie so beautiful is that it takes the life of a suffering individual and shows that it means something.  Grace is working in the smallest things, and God has not abandoned those who suffer. It shows how the simplest priest reaches out to God, and does not understand how God is working in him, but God does work through him. It is simple faith that makes one great in daily trials, and that helps one persevere in the great difficulties. And in the end, “All is grace.”

Now, I would not recommend purchasing this movie unless you have a lot of money to dispose of (the book is more affordable), but we found it at a library and it is possible that it might be rented from other places. It is well worth a viewing, and a few days reflection. Just as a warning, it is in a foreign language and it does have subtitles. Being a movie from Western Europe, it is able to capture Catholicism in a way that is quite different from American cinema. The rich Catholic history of France, even with its recent atheist tendencies, has not been forgotten. Catholicism is still so present in Western Europe in the architecture and in the history.

With ancestors largely from Western Europe, I have found that by learning more about their culture, I understand more about myself. And the Catholic history is not something that can ever be fully thrown aside. The hostility of the parishioners in Diary of a Country Priest could be compared to the hostility of modern Western society  towards the Church, and that is another reason to watch the movie and see how everything we have and do is through grace.

Originally posted at Truth and Charity...

Sunday, December 8, 2013

I Finished Two Jesse Tree Ornaments!

Advent has been somewhat different than I expected so far this year, and I am trying to see it as good in the long run. It has been quiet and low key, since the first three days, we had kids with fevers. The day they were healthy we went out in the snow and a fever returned. We all seemed okay until Saturday, when we were doing some shopping, that I started feeling absolutely awful. I suppose it is better to be sick now than next weekend when we actually have plans with people, but it is still frustrating for me to spend all of Sunday (from midnight on) as a victim to the stomach bug. I have discovered that I can keep down lemon-lime soda, but nothing else. Hydration is the most important thing for me as a nursing mom, so I am not going to even touch food again until tomorrow. I am trying to let go of my disappointment and be okay with a few more days of low key, but also embrace it and focus on preparing my heart for Christmas.

Because of the illnesses, I have a a little bit more time on my hands for things like finishing my long awaiting Jesse Tree Ornaments. This is my first one, which I started three years ago when L was a newborn:
This next one I just started in October, and it was on track to be completed quickly when All Saints day costumes trumped it. I finished it yesterday:
We use our first Christmas tree as a Jesse Tree. It is a 20 inch table top tree that we got for our little apartment in Buffalo. It is perfect for the Jesse Tree ornaments. I am excited that one day we might actually have only cute little cross-stitch pillows instead of paper circles.

I found this tutorial on pillow ornaments, deciding against putting them in a frame. This just seemed more lasting.  To make the patterns I used the pictures I already had and scanned them and put them into the pattern maker on this website. I them altered them to my colors and wishes.

Lastly, I am sharing our Advent wreath. Inspired by my friend J's wreath, I went out and bought a charger to place under the wreath. Until this year I had been using a pizza pan covered in foil. This is much more pleasing to the eye. 

I made this wreath our first year of marriage.
The frame I found at Hobby Lobby.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Seven Quick Takes, Friday Dec. 6

1. We had that cold front the rest of the country had this week. And while Jen's (linking up with her quick takes here) chart on how cold is so much colder for her in Texas is nice, the reverse chart for Northern people and hot weather is not entirely fair. She gives 10 degrees for "every time you were snowed in", but the thing is being "snowed in" is not something that happens in the North. That only happens in places where people don't get very much snow. Here in Minnesota snow is just part of life and you just deal. We even have a massive snow blower that our kind Minnesotan neighbors gave us since they had a spare! But as it is, I don't mind the heat, it is much more bearable than the cold.

How it feels to live in Minnesota.

2. Speaking of warm weather, I took the kids outside on Wednesday morning since it was a wopping 33°F out and there was fresh layer of snow on the ground. We I built a snowman in about five minutes. The snow was perfect for packing. I could have made the balls a lot bigger, but packed snow is heavy and I was afraid I would not be able to lift it.
He is an artist, which is why he a wearing a beret. I almost gave him a pipe, but thought M might not appreciate his pipe left out in the snow.
 Every time I see this figure right outside our picture window, I do a double take thinking it might be a person standing in the window. 
3. I do confess that I am wimpy about 2°F weather with a -20°F windchill, so much so that we were pretty worried when our furnace stopped working last night. I posted for prayers in a Catholic mom's Facebook group and right after people started praying the furnace started keeping the house at our set temperature. I am convinced that their intercession played a large part in our furnace running all night. We only got down to 67°F in the house by the time our repairman came and figured out the problem. We now have reliable heat! Praise the Lord!

4. Happy St. Nicholas day! We prepped the kids all week for it and this morning they were thrilled to find the goodies in their shoes. G (4.5) has us figured out and asked, "Why did you put candy in our shoes?"I will not get into it right now, but we are very forward with the kids about pretend things adults do for kids.
St. Nick had Aldi stock up on Sea Salted Dark Chocolate Cover Caramels.
M will be lucky if there are any left when he gets home from work today.
It is pretty amazing how new flavored lipsmackers and hair clips and can keep two little girls happy for hours. It is so funny to see them with the bottom half of their faces smeared with it. My favorite part about St. Nicholas day though, is buying the chocolate Santas and eating them all well before Christmas...

5. Happy birthday to my dear sister S! I am the only sister left in my 20s. I will try not to rub it in. S is a beautiful, wonderful, intelligent, and holy woman! I am so happy that I have her as a sister. We had a great conversation yesterday on the phone and it sounds like she is having a fun gathering tonight. If only I were in St. Louis...

6. I finally finished Crime and Punishment on Wednesday, two days before my goal. It is an impressive book, but I suppose everyone already knows that. I am not sure if I am entirely convinced by the events in the epilogue, but maybe I just need to digest it longer. I will say no more, if you want to know more about it, read the book! This is a great translation. I have now started Baseball and Memory by Lee Congdon. M gave it to me for my birthday two years ago. It is about history, baseball and why they are important to remember.

7. Two weeks ago I asked for prayers for a friend's baby born by emergency C-section, and since then the family has started a blog with daily updates. Please continue to pray for her, and if you would like to know more you can read the blog. Thank you for your prayers!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Musings on a Snowy Monday

It is not the typical Monday in the Spencer household. The house guests left yesterday morning. We had my in-laws and two sisters-in-law for the long weekend, and it was a very nice visit. Thanksgiving day had the typical delicious fare as well as macaroni and cheese for the birthday girl (L turned 3) and a vegan roast for certain non-meat eaters. To add to the fun, on Friday we had 14 more people arrive for the afternoon: 2 aunts, 2 uncles, 9 cousins, and a fiance. Our new house had its first large party and it survived mostly unscathed (we got the ink spill off the new carpet within minutes of the incident).

The older girls were pleased to have so many people around to play with for three whole days, but by mid-afternoon yesterday, G (4.5) was running a decently high fever and F (1) was miserable with a cold. Today has been a sick day, as L developed a fever this morning. Cranky, sick children makes for a quiet, uneventful day for me. We called the doctor, and she thinks they have "what's going around."

And now the snow is swirling about outside and the blackbean soup is simmering with the leftover hambone. The Jesse Tree is awaiting its first ornament of Advent and the wreath is sitting on the table. A friend wished on Facebook yesterday a Happy Catholic New Year, and really that is what it feels like to me. Bringing out our strong liturgical year traditions for Advent really does make it feel like a new year.

I am going to list a few goals I have for this next year:
  • Start making all my own stocks by next Advent. I have a strong dislike for boning meats, and prefer to buy boneless, skinless meats, but it is time to get over it.
  • Regularly cross stitch so that by next Advent I actually have a finished stitched Jesse Tree ornament. 
  • Not cave and restart Netflix and use the library instead.
  • Go through the stuff I brought home from my parents house.
  • Paint the girl's dresser.
  • Do school every school day.
  • Sew kitchen valance curtains.
  • Be kinder.
  • Listen to my children.
  • Never cease to seek holiness.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Ethics of Cooking Dinner

Happy Thanksgiving! It seems that the appropriate thing to write about for today is food. That is what I have been thinking about and planning for weeks. Though I do think about food most hours of everyday (except when my children are asleep and no one is asking me for a snack). It is one of those things essential to our survival, but there is also an element of ethics to preparing a nice meal.

When one gives a dinner in honor of something or someone, one is going to put care into the food preparations. Whether, they hire a caterer or do the food preparations themselves, there is value in what they are doing. And I have always thought that it makes a food more special if it is homemade. For example, my mom always made our birthday cakes. We never had store bought cake, or even frosting. Her act of making a cake for me had meaning, and I experienced her love for me through that act.

Thanksgiving is a day when many people come together and make a feast, and the time and the care put into these preparations is not without value. In the story of Martha and Mary, we have Mary sitting and talking and Martha in the kitchen cooking food. We never here if Martha is an amazing cook, but I imagine that Jesus could enjoy a good meal. When he calls Mary’s act of listening to him the “better part”, he implies that Martha’s act of preparing food is also a good.

When people share a meal, they are united together in a deeper relationship, and what the food is effects the relationship as well. I have noticed that when I get together with other moms and their kids, the shyest kid will always warm up to the other kids once they have eaten food together. I would say that there are different levels of relationship building food. The lowest is the simplest family meal, maybe mostly out of a box or the freezer, but the family is still together and eating and discussing. There is also the homemade meal, where a little bit more time has been put into it. The conversation may be the same, but homemade chicken soup is much more satisfying than the canned stuff.

Then there is the holiday feast. Cooking has been going on for days, and finally the turkey is being carved and the table is set. The planning, the labor, the love, they make this meal special, but also what is being honored. Today we are thankful for our many blessings in life. And the highest family meal is the Last Supper, where Jesus, Himself, took on the role of the servant, washing feet and transforming food into his Body and Blood. It is not a coincidence that good food unites people together.

Originally posted at Truth and Charity.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Seven Quick Takes--Saturday, November 23

1. And it is the weekend again already! The days just fly by with the kids and keeping house. I am really thankful for my Monday resolution, which I might need to alter to include email. I missed a few important emails during the day this week, so I think I need to allow myself a quick email check. Facebook, however, can wait until the kids are in bed.

2. G (4.5) picked out a book at the library last week about a little girl and her grandma. At the end of the book the grandma dies, and the girl discusses death and how she misses her grandma. Out of the stack of 13 books, this is her favorite to have read to her. She has not yet known anyone who has passed away, but she will someday. I don't really know if literature can prepare a little child for such a loss, but maybe it will help her understand what has happened better when she encounters it in her own life. Maybe I will follow up on the book by discussing praying for the souls of the dead.

3. I am cooking my own Thanksgiving turkey this year for the first time in my life! Our first three married Thanksgivings we were traveling, and last year our aunt and uncle cooked dinner for us in our home since I was three weeks post-partum at the time. This year my in-laws are coming to visit, and my mother-in-law and I planned the meal earlier this week. Everything but the turkey and L's birthday request of mac and cheese is going to be vegan for the benefit of M's youngest sister. However, this meal should be no problem compared to the Pate de Canard en Croute that I made Wednesday and Thursday.

4. We bought a treadmill last weekend, and it is a good thing we waited until we bought house to get something so huge and heavy! We got it safely down into the basement study with the help of M's colleague. Many thanks to him for his help! It is just in time for today's high of 18°F. If I was cool and had a smartphone I would post a screen shot of the weather forecast here. 

5. In case you are wondering, I am still working my way through Crime and Punishment. I am over halfway now. Maybe I should have a two week deadline for myself. I will try to have it done by St. Nicholas day. Speaking of St. Nicholas day, when one emphasizes that with kids instead of Santa, one hears things like this from one's 4.5 year old, upon seeing Christmas displays with candy:

"Look, Mom! They are getting ready for St. Nicholas day!" 
Photo by Brian Behrend. This is not the dog we saw.

6. The world from the perspective of a nearly three year old gets pretty interesting. Today I found L looking out the front window at a lady walking her dog. She said to me, "That dog broke his poor little body!" I took a closer look at the dog. He was wearing a sweater. I almost did not want to explain to her that he was not in a full body cast, because it was so cute that she thought this.

7. Please take a moment to pray for a friend's (from grad school) wife and newborn baby. She just had an emergency c-section and apparently the baby is not doing well. 

Linking up with Jen's Conversion Diary. Head on over for more quick takes.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Pate De Canard en Croute: Boned Stuffed Duck Baked in a Pastry Crust

I first really learned about Julia Child two years ago when we saw that recent movie about her, and I was intrigued. Cooking has always been a love of mine, and French cooking was a natural next step. I used some gift money to purchase her cookbook, and tried a few recipes. I try them from time to time, when I feel up to cooking for hours on end. M has been asking for me to try the "boned duck" recipe for awhile, and I have been viewing it as something I should try to test my abilities. I saw duck for sale at Aldi about a month ago and the need to fit a turkey in the freezer meant that it was time...
"The memory of a good French pate can haunt you for years." -Mastering the Art of French Cooking
 The poor five pound duck, did not know what was coming. I am not a huge fan of taking apart poultry raw or cooked. So, this step was not exactly the most pleasant for me. Julia Child said to count on it taking 45 minutes. This is where I was after 45 minutes...
 G started snapping photographs and caught me up to my wrists in duck goop...
 Here I am with the legs and wings left to bone about 90 minutes in. If this picture looks like it was taken by a child, that is because it was.
 The skin in all its glory. At this point I chopped up the meat and mixed it with cognac and spices and wrapped it in the filling to make the pate.
Here is the pate of ground pork, ground turkey (poor man's veal?), ground pork fat, spices, sauted onions, cooked down cognac, and diced duck sewn up in the duck skin. It reminds me a a slug.
Now it looks like a weird little alien browning in my massive cast iron skillet. I stopped for the night at this point, after five hours of labor. I made the pastry dough and we watched a Downton before calling it a night.

The next morning I discovered my true delight in all things baking related and it took me about 45 minutes to roll out the dough, wrap the pate and decorate it to this point:
  Then it went into the oven for 2 hours.

 F watched it closely a good amount of that time.
 Once it reached 180°F, it was finished. I took it out of the oven to cool.
Hot and fresh. It had to cool for hours before it was ready to be cracked open.
 This part made me extremely nervous. I was not sure how the shell would hold out. We removed the trussings and got it safely back into the crust.
 The main course is served.
 The inside view.

Some after thoughts: Pate is not my favorite. I was not exactly sure what to expect, but think a gourmet, large hot dog made with actually good meat and wrapped in bird skin. Plus, a fancy handmade bun. The taste-testers (dinner guests) all gave it high praise, and M even had seconds. I am not sure I would do it again. I think I would rather have a really nice steak...

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Monday Resolution

I can't believe this month is flying by so quickly. We are almost to Thanksgiving, and then Advent begins. I had thoughts about doing Christmas gift preparation before Thanksgiving to make Advent more prayerful, but I am still planning what meals to cook this week and trying to keep up on keeping house. I just feel like I am way behind on everything, but honestly almosy 10 minutes of every waking hour I am spending on the internet. That is over two hours a day I could be spending on something else. I need to figure out how to balance using the internet in a healthy, good way, as opposed to having it hinder my daily life.

I need to start with some major cutting back. I think social media and email need to be off-limits for me between 8:30am and 8pm. These are the hours I get the most done and spend the most time with the kids. I will make one exception to that, and that will be for blogging and blog sharing. So there's that...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

From Market to Purée: How to Prepare Pumpkin

I purchased this pumpkin back in October, and the poor neglected squash sat on the back console table for nearly a month. Fortunately for me, winter squash have a great shelf life. I finally got to roasting it.

How to Roast a Winter Squash:
-Preheat oven to 400°F

-Cut squash into quarters and remove all strings, seeds, and hard stems

-Prick fleshy side all over with a fork
-Brush with olive oil

-Sprinkle with a little salt

-Place fleshy side down on rimmed cookie sheets 

-Roast in oven for 50 minutes or until fork pricks through easily (for me it got so soft that the squash lost all structural integrity)

-Set aside until cool

Making the Purée:

-Skin the cooled squash pieces and cut into small chunks

Chunks O Squash
-Purée in food processor (or blender if you are holding out to buy a food processor until you can splurge on the Kitchen Aid Brand)
The pureeing in this 5 year old blender took me an hour.
-Measure into 15 oz. portions and put into a freezer bag
15 oz is the amount you can buy canned to make one pumpkin pie.
 -Stack and freeze:
I spent $4.00 and 3 hours of labor on my pumpkin squash for 7 cans worth of potential pumpkin.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Seven Quick Takes, Friday, Nov. 8

1. With the basement finished (my post with pictures is here), I am not sure what else to look forward to, but then I have nothing to complain about either. I guess we can start living in our home unhindered by workmen, their schedules, and daytime drilling and hammering. I want to talk about a few things besides the basement and all of that.

2. M went to a philosophy conference last weekend, and there saw a lot of colleagues that he knows from graduate school, previous conferences, and even former professors. He saw one of my favorite philosophy professors from my undergraduate studies who asked about me and said that he remembered me fondly from being in his classes. That really made my day. For some reason I am always a bit surprised when people, who are not my closest friends and relatives, remember me or are even interested in how I am doing. I just don't really think of myself a a particularly memorable person. I am thankful to this professor for the beginnings of my formation in more serious, intellectual thought. While I am not doing it professionally, I do enjoy it an aside to the rest of my life.

3. I am also feeling thankful to my mother who came and stayed with us for eight days to help me with the kids while M was away (he was only gone two nights) and celebrate F's birthday. It is always nice to have house guests who help so much with dishes and cooking that they make it easier to run the house. My father was able to fit a visit in between his church music obligations, and it was great to see him. He took some beautiful shots of our family and of the baby, so if you are on our Christmas card list or a Facebook friend, you will get to see them!

4. After a week of having my mom around at lunch time, I went to make lunch for the kids and had no motivation to do so, especially because they were playing happily in the basement. Even my own empty stomach was ignored to peruse the internet for about 10 minutes before I reasoned to myself that if I just went through the hour process of making lunch, eating, and getting the kids down for naps/quiet time, I could have a quiet time of my own to do nothing (or blog).

5. Question about Minnesota life: If it snows before you rake all of your leaves, what are you supposed to do? Can we count on the snow melting before it really freezes up for the Winter? Further, I wasn't finished "Winterizing" my garden. Please tell me that there will be a thaw. I will be hiding in my warm, cozy soft basement until then.

6. I have been following a this blog called Blossoming Joy by a Catholic, homeschooling mom since August. There is something about it that I find sweet, and I really enjoy her thoughts and the way she raised her children. Further, I am pretty sure my husband was just like her teenage son when he was a teenager.

7. This is the obligatory comment on my blog about the World Series not turning out as I had hoped. A brilliant author once penned: "Baseball is a cruel, but beautiful game, played in the shape of a diamond." Let's all think about that for awhile...

Photo by Canadian Veggie.

For more Quick Takes head on over to Jen!

The Saga of the Leaky Pipe: A Blessing in Disguise

Back on June 29th this year, we came home from a lovely vacation on Lake Michigan to find that our finished basement had a lake of its own. Suspicious things were growing on the walls and unpleasant odors were wafting up the stairs. Thus, the Saga of the Leaky Pipe began. Four months later the basement has been made new again, and even better than it was before.

Before: Here are some pictures of what the basement looked like in August before the asbestos tile was removed:
There was one big family room with knotty pine paneling. That green tile is the bad stuff.
The other end of the room wear you can still see the berber carpet. Notice the un-carpeted stairs.
The laundry room wall that was ripped out.
Ugly floors.
This is the wall of the furnace room that let all the water pass through.
The back drywall, wall of the bathroom with water damage and mold. Yuck!
The bathroom floor was water logged.
A brief overview of what was done:

-The water was mitigated. Carpet was torn up, walls were ripped out, and a monster dehumidifier sat in the basement purring for 10 days
-Restoration contractors came and made estimates
-Waiting for them and insurance

-Removal of asbestos
-Cabinets and ceiling were ripped out
-Framing for our new room put in

-Electrical work
-Plumbing work
-Drywall: sheetrock and mudding

-Walls painted
-Ceiling put in

-Finishing touches

The wait is over! Since we did drywall instead of wood paneling, we were able to have a few extra things done to restore the basement to a matching, livable space. A lot of new estimates were made by the contractors in the name or matching. The pictures do have a bit of clutter that has not quite found its home.

M's Study. What was done: new carpet (replaced with extra money). This room had no damage, but the carpet was pretty old and a bit basement smelly.
The paneling in the study is not as nice as the paneling we had in the other room,
but it reminds M of his house that he lived in back in college.
Family Room. What was done: new walls, new ceiling, new cushy, soft carpet.
The kids got the toys out for the day before I took the pictures.
That dark hallway leads to the Spare Oom.
Other way. These built-in cabinets remained.
Laundry Room. What was done: new drywall, new floor tile, and new paint color.
It is nice having a ceiling!

I am loving the use of the laundry chute!
Spare Oom. What was done: the room was made! It is an L shape so a picture is hard to take. One day, if we stay in this house we will dig out an egress window.
The built in shelves were part of the original basement, and were redone to hide the water meter.

My parents were staying in this room. You can also, when you come and visit!
Full Bathroom. What was done: new back wall, new sink cabinet, new floor, new paint, and I picked out a new curtain.
I got my yellow room.
Fun new floor!

Stairs. What was done: wood paneling changed to drywall and the CARPET! We almost did the stair carpeting before we moved in, but decided to wait. It would have been ruined if we had by all the work that was done.
The left doorway leads to the hallway to the bathroom and furnace room.
The right doorway is the study.
That gate is for the top of the stairs for when I want the door open.

We feel truly blessed by this house. We were happy with the finished basement when we bought the house, and thought that maybe someday we would add an extra room, but to have it done just six months after moving in, was beyond what we hoped and prayed for in a house. God has provided abundantly for us, and we are full of gratitude!
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