Tuesday, 18 March 2014

It's Both for This Catholic "Thing"

Last year, I discovered The Bitter Southerner, a literary magazine on-line.   They publish a new story every Tuesday morning to share stories of people, places, and activities which represent the new south, the south that seeks to right wrongs and look to the future.   I've looked forward to my Bitter Tuesday mornings.
 
Today's feature, the beautifully written "Feed," by author Susan Rebecca White, has been on my mind all day, through the breakfast dishes, the fitting for a temporary crown (always the dental patient, never the Queen), and the afternoon routines of school pick-up, homework, and dinner.   I scribbled a bit on my notepad and now I sit to try to write about all those thoughts so I can figure out what I think of "Feed."
 
 
As a Born-and-Raised Anti-Catholic
 
I've written before of my un-churched upbringing.   My dear mama was raised in the Church of Christ, a denomination where each congregation is autonomous.   The only beliefs of which she was more suspicious than the Baptist's creed was that of the Catholic Church.   It wasn't until I was an adult that I learned why her feelings were so very strong.


 


Twenty-three years old, the baby sibling who baby-sat nieces and nephews and longed for children of her own, my mama sat alone in an Oklahoma hospital room during the summer of 1960.   Greg, my brother, Mama's first child, was in another room with doctors and nurses.   He had been born that day and instead of hearty congratulations, Mama had been greeted with uncomfortable silence as the doctors tried to figure out exactly what was wrong with him.   Something was seriously wrong and Mama had very few answers beyond doctor's grave predictions that Greg would probably not survive the night.
 
So there the daughter of a Church of Christ elder sat, tired and frightened, when a nun walked into her room.   The nun asked if Greg had been baptized.   Now, in later years, my parents would live in various parts of the country as my dad completed further degrees and taught at different universities.   Mama would befriend people from different places and religions, but in 1960, her experiences were still limited, so I doubt she had even heard of a baby being baptized.   In the Church of Christ, baptism is a decision made by a person considered to be of an age of reason.    The nun started to "help" Mama so Greg could be baptized.   She was shocked when Mama told her she was not going to have Greg baptized.
 
"Do you want him to go to Hell?!" the nun told Mama.   When Mama relayed the incident to me, she spoke those words with a combination of irritation and incredulity, in imitation of the nun.
 
Suspicion became outright distrust and dislike probably often bordered on hatred.   By the time I came along, my parents were settled in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.   They had lived there three years, but Mama still had not adjusted to all the Catholics who surrounded her, with their "mess (mass), playing with their beads, and all that standing and sitting."   And heaven help us, they drank.    There were plenty of lesser examples of those who belonged to the Catholic Church and she considered the "good ones" to be so in spite of being Catholic.
 
When I moved deeper into Catholic country for my first teaching job in New Iberia, Louisiana during the fall of 1995, I complained about all the statues of Mary in the front yard.   "They bless everything.   I saw them blessing sugarcane crops with holy water on the news the other night...Know how you make holy water?   Put tap water in a pot on the stove and boil the hell out of it..."  
 
 
As a Convert to the Catholic Church
 
I'd always searched for God, longed for Him, but I never expected to find myself in the pew of a Catholic parish during  Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend in 1996.   Only God knows how it happened and even more, how I would begin the process of conversion eight months later.  
 
On March 29, 1997, I was baptized, confirmed and received the Blessed Eucharist for the first time at the Easter Vigil Mass.   You can hear the gasp from the crowd on the videotape as Father Steve poured water over my head three times.   Like my mama who had no idea you could baptize babies, the packed house was struck by the novelty of an adult baptism.   Mama did not attend, but years later she would buy a special blanket for my daughter's baptism.
 
I had little idea of what I'd gotten into.   I'd taken classes as part of the official RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) at our parish, but, well, it was run by a former nun and we spent a lot of time reading scriptures and talking about how they made us feel.   We were spared making collages.   Lest I lay blame at others' feet, though, I was twenty-three years old and should have studied on my own.    When I left home and started visiting churches, I tried them on to see which fit me best.   In Catholic parishes, I found the reverence and quiet which I found lacking in all the Protestant denominations I visited.   I guess I would describe my initial attraction to the Church as "aesthetic."   And man does not live by aesthetics alone.
 
I received the Eucharist a few more times after my baptism, but then I stopped.   I just had this gut feeling, an almost physical force, that held me in the pew.   I did not feel shame; I just felt strongly I should not receive.   I spoke to a priest about it, but he focused on the logistics of it all.   It wasn't his fault entirely; I wasn't offering him much to work with as to why I was abstaining from the Eucharist.   As a child, I only went to services at the local Church of Christ a few times, when my grandparents visited us.   Communion was a very somber part of the service.   The tray of little glasses of grape juice and the plate containing a piece of matzha bread were passed over and around me since I had not been baptized.   It never made me feel left out.   It did reinforce that somehow, it was a really big deal to my child's mind.
 
Four years passed.   I stopped going to mass.   Then, I happened to catch a program on EWTN, a Catholic cable network that my husband and I had ridiculed in the past for what we considered boring programming.   I listened to the conversation about a Church teaching and realized I had no idea the Church taught that.   I panicked.   What in the world had I done?   The next day, I began to research and learn about the Church: her history, her teachings, warts and all.   I knew that my discoveries could lead me to leave the Church, but I pressed on.   I bought and borrowed books.   I talked to priests, and attended conferences.   I read the Protestant case against and the Catholic apologists' claims for.  

Baptized at age twenty-three, I had been completely ignorant of the Church's teaching on the Eucharist, commonly referred to as Communion.   I truly had no idea that Catholics believed that the words of consecration, spoken by a validly ordained priest, through the power of the Holy Spirit, became the actual Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.   Not just a symbol of His body and blood, as I thought, but the actual body and blood.   See above "What in the world had I done?"

I read the New Testament for every mention of communion, of Jesus's body and blood.   Two books by convert and scholar, Dr. Scott Hahn, "A Father Who Keeps His Promises," and "The Lamb's Supper" were so crucial to my understand of the Church's teaching.   I cannot recommend these two books enough.   Dr. Hahn explains in the first book how God has revealed himself more and more to man with covenants, from Adam and Eve through Christ.   In both books, he details the Jewish sacrifice of Passover and how each part of the mass fulfills the New Covenant, with Jesus, the lamb of God.   I learned through scripture and historical record, the Catholic Church is the church founded by Christ on the Rock (Peter) and the Magesterium (the Pope, united with the bishops) have authority to maintain, interpret and hand on Christ's teachings.   And through the exercise of my mind and the complete unmerited gift of faith, I understood.   And I believed.

I also now understood what was keeping me back from receiving the Eucharist.   It was not shaming or guilt-tripping by the Church.   It wasn't superstition.   It was the protection of the Holy Spirit.   When you approach the priest or Eucharistic minister to receive the Eucharist, he says, "Body of Christ."   And then, you reply, "Amen."   As in "Yes, I attest to that."   Yes, I believe that is the actual Body of Christ.   I do not want to make an oath, an assent to a belief, unless I truly understand it and believe it.   After all, God gave us the gifts of free will and reason.  

Before the reversion after my conversion, I did not believe in the True Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.   It's no small thing, transubstantiation.   That's the proper name for what happens to the host (wafer) once it is consecrated during mass, even though to our eyes it still has the appearance of a wafer.   Not just the Church, but also, scripture tells us that the Eucharist is not to be taken lightly or without full knowledge:

I Corinthians 11:27
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.
(in context:
26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. 27Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.…)
1 Corinthians 11:29
For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.
Hebrews 10:29
How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?
 

It's not easy, and not necessarily automatic, to accept such a teaching.   It's not to be taken lightly and while I regret those years without the Eucharist, when I was ignorant of Him in that form, I am grateful, eternally so, that for once, I listened to my "gut," the Holy Spirit, and was protected so I did not receive Jesus in the Eucharist again until I understood what I was really saying when I gave my "Amen."


As a Southerner, As a Catholic, As a Southern Catholic

An excerpt from the "About Us" section on the site (but read the whole piece):
 
 
The world knows too little about these people, which is, alas, another reason to be bitter. But it prompted us to create The Bitter Southerner™.
We’re talking here about people whose work embodies what my old buddy Patterson Hood once called, in a song, “the duality of the Southern thing.” The purpose of The Bitter Southerner is to explore, from every angle we can, the duality of the Southern thing.
 

I share those feelings about a whole region being judged by the negative actions of a few,   entire history being dismissed because of the truly bad parts, and generalizations based on individual encounters.    I've written before about dealing with it.   I think being a southerner makes me especially empathetic to my Church as I  share those same feelings as a Catholic: a whole group of priests being judged by the criminal and immoral actions of a relative few, a total dismissal of the entirety of Church history because of mistakes and sins of the past, and generalizations of the entire faith because of bad encounters with individual Catholics.  

On Facebook, the manager of the page for The Bitter Southerner chose this excerpt to place with the link to the story:

“Are you Catholic?” he asked.
“No,” I said, still not getting it.
And with that he plucked the wafer out of my hand.
 
The editors' introduction to the story was:
 
When we began, we promised to “publish pieces that Bitter Southerners like ourselves create as we wrestle with our region.” This is one of those. Ladies and gentlemen, in one corner, Susan Rebecca White. As for who or what is in the other, that’s up to you ...   


White shares that she was attracted to the Catholic Church for many reasons, including the intellectual aspect of the faith, Catholics she saw doing the work of serving the poor and giving credibility to their pro-life beliefs, and nuns who ran counter to all the negative stereotypes.    Catholics like Flannery O' Connor and Doris Day had her respect and piqued her interest in the Church.   A misunderstanding when she attended mass as a visitor takes center stage in the story:   When she misunderstands the words to those who are not Catholic and moves to the altar to receive the Eucharist, a priest spots her awkwardness and calls her over.   After he finds out she is not Catholic, he takes away the Eucharist given to her by another minister, without any explanation.


The mass is Heaven on Earth.



My mama could sure relate to this story.   Both were in such moments of vulnerability and they were left with confusion and hurt.   They were left.   And if I could travel back in time, I'd go to them and hug them.   I'd apologize for the nun's reaction and offer comfort.   I'd pray they didn't base their entire opinion on those events.  Later, I might explain what baptism is and what the Eucharist really is, encourage them to study the actual Church teachings, and how people aren't excommunicated for being divorced, that the Church allows civil divorce.   I'd also explain that the Eucharist can't be quickly explained in a sound bite and the priest had a line of people waiting to receive the Eucharist, but that I wish he could have found Susan after mass and invited her to learn more about the faith, even if he had just made a general announcement of welcome at the end of mass.   I'd say that donuts after mass, concerts, fairs, and children's programs are about welcoming and inviting people, but the mass  is about worship of God, not about how I or anyone else feels.   I'd share how I still sometimes refrain from receiving the Eucharist after prayer and asking for guidance from the Holy Spirit because of my deep belief in and reverence for Christ in the Eucharist.   Unless I traveled back in time as the "pre-conversion-then-reversion" me because then I'd just share in their hurt and probably stir up any anger upon which I could feed.    It would all depend upon when you caught me.

White wasn't an anti-Catholic like me and she was led to volunteer work by what she had learned of the Church.   In addition to being beautifully written, the passage about her experiences as a volunteer was also very moving.    All I know for sure about this women I've never met is she's on a journey.   .She describes casting deep for love and faith, but like me, she's just on the shore's edge of an unfathomable ocean of love and mercy.   I'm also on the edge; I'm also on a journey.   

White ends her piece with this passage:
 
When my friend and I had left the church that morning, we, along with all of the other first-time visitors, were offered a small loaf of bread. Lovely though the gift was, I felt awkward taking it given what had happened at the altar. But as my friend dropped me off at home, he insisted I take his. After the girls wearied of being kittens, I asked if they would like a slice, maybe toasted. Yes, they would. They wanted it with butter. I texted my friend, “The girls are eating the bread.”
He wrote back, “They are eating Jesus.”
Meaning, despite human effort, God can’t be limited to the confines of a wafer, even one that is sanctioned by the proper authority. Love continues to bubble up and expand, like yeast rising in an ordinary loaf of bread. I am beginning to believe that it is the ordinary bread that is holy — or rather, that is made holy once we break it open, eat from it and share it with those who are hungry. Which is to say, once we share it with all.

It is so well-written and it's hard to write a good ending.   As a Catholic who is still learning, I agree that God is not limited or confined to a wafer.   The Catholic Church has never taught that.   God is not limited to time, space, or history because he is limitless.   The intellectual part of me cringes at the theological error of "They are eating Jesus" but that is only through the grace of faith and a lot of reading.  Yes, ordinary bread can be holy, meaning set apart for God, when it is broken and in the sharing, but that does not make it the same as the Eucharist, which we Catholics believe is the actual body and blood of our savior, Jesus Christ.   

You see, it's the duality of the Catholic thing.   It's not either/or; it's both/and.   Jesus is present in a special, unique way, in His actual body and blood, in His humanity and divinity, in the sacred consecrated host which is the Eucharist.   When I receive him during Holy Communion, I am fed and filled, but not like a cup or a bowl, to be saved or hoarded for myself and only my benefit.   It is more as a sieve, or a colander, that I am filled.   His grace and love are meant to flow through me as I share Him through love and service with all I encounter.   So, he is present in my hands as I serve my children snacks or wash the supper dishes from the night before.   He is present in my words as I comfort a friend in need.   I pray He is present in these words I type and I pray these words are made holy, set apart for God, as they are shared.   The last words of the priest at mass are, "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord."   It is a dismissal and a call to action to all assembled there.

It's the duality we see in the graphic that heads White's piece.   In the background, two angels kneel on either side of a monstrance.   A monstrance is a special vessel used to display the Eucharist, the consecrated host that IS Jesus, so believers may adore Jesus.   That's part of the package when I say "Amen" after receiving the Eucharist during mass.   In Mother Teresa's order, the nuns wore simple garments and lived simple lives, but in their chapel, gold vessels were used for the Eucharist because of the special way Jesus is present there.

In the foreground, is the word, FEED, in all-caps and done in a font that resembles a worn stamp.   The heavenly and adored along with the common and mundane.  Kneeling angels behind the mark of the everyday, something that calls to mind a clerk, stamp in hand: thud, squish of the ink, thud onto paper, "Next!"   It's in the all-caps, take-notice font of a directive, while not unlike the mundane action of scooping vegetable onto the plates of the hungry which White describes as part of her service to others.    But it wasn't mundane because God made it holy and He was there, in the duality of the sacred and the ordinary.   Just as God is not confined to the consecrated host, God can't be confined to just the ordinary or to just the hands of those who are not ordained.    We can't put Him, His Church (also the body of Christ, unique from the Body of Christ in the Eucharist) into a neat box.   Or any corner.





And after all that, I should have just started with Flannery O' Connor as she dealt with the duality of being a Catholic and the lack of bitterness in her stories.   She was always dealing with the duality of the southern thing and the Catholic thing:

I write the way I do because (not though) I am a Catholic.   This is a fact and nothing covers it like the bald statement.   However, I am a Catholic peculiarly possessed of the modern consciousness, that thing Jung describes as unhistorical, solitary, and guilty.   To possess this within the church is to bear a burden, the necessary burden for the conscious Catholic.   It's to feel the contemporary situation at the ultimate level.   I think that the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed.   It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it, but if you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time you struggle to endure it.   This may explain the lack of bitterness in the stories.



For further reading, I also recommend: All of convert Heather King's memoirs and her blog, Shirt of Flame, especially this post as a starting point: http://shirtofflame.blogspot.com/2011/02/why-i-avoid-both-catholic-left-and.html 
She in the thick of it dealing with duality and convergences and also a devoted reader of O' Connor and Day.
 
&


this post about the difficulty of explaining who may & may not receive the Eucharist, especially at occasions such as funerals or weddings: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/deaconsbench/2013/10/all-are-welcome-except-those-who-arent-addressing-non-catholics-and-communion-at-mass/


Update: Susan Rebecca White posted this essay on her Facebook author page which made me happy because she received the post in the spirit in which it was written, thanks be to God.


 



Saturday, 15 March 2014

Mardi Gras 2014

Catch-up Post!   We had a fun, but low-key Mardi Gras season and Fat Tuesday this year.   We didn't try any get-togethers.   On Fat Tuesday, we were fortunate to have gumbo in the freezer, so all I had to cook was a decadent dessert before the Lenten season would commence at midnight.   Even though King Cake is a traditional Mardi Gars food, it's not what we wanted.   We wanted a homemade key lime pie and it was delicious!  



The fleur-de-lis was an after-Christmas find at Kirklands.   If you don't have beads, you can find them at Dollar Tree.  



My masks, as well as the gold balls in the hurricane glass, came from King Dollar:



This little tree was our Dr. Suess tree at Christmas.   On Epiphany, it became our Mardi Gras tree.   The garland on the mantle was a new find this year from Kirkland's after Christmas, for just $3.00.  I threaded clearance Christmas ribbon through it.




On to dessert:


 

The key to a great citrus dessert: zest from the outer peel:



That is a whole cup of juice from those tiny key limes.   The best method is using a fork to juice each lime.   Rolling the limes before cutting them helps get the juices flowing.



Zest: my microplaner is one of my favorite kitchen tools!   I even added zest to the graham cracker crust, for extra lime flavor.




Now, doesn't that seem decadent enough for a Fat Tuesday dessert?!   Homemade whipped cream piped on top is the crowning glory.   Here's a few recipes and more tips:

http://www.thepiebelle.com/2013/04/02/a-zest-for-key-lime-pie-a-classic-recipe-and-the-recipe/




My Clare really got into the Mardi Gras spirit this year!

 




Monday, 10 March 2014

C.O.D.

C.O.D--Cash on Delivery--remember that on old television product offers?

Friday, I received a late Christmas card from the daughter of Mama's best friend.   She had mailed the card earlier but it was returned and between then and now, her mom gave her two pictures.   They are from May of 1991, the weekend of my high school graduation.   Mrs. Carmel and five of her six children travelled to spend the weekend with us.   One of the pictures was much like one in my photo album from my high school days.   It was a picture of me, in cap and gown, between my parents.   It was the top of the stack in the envelope.  

The second picture--one I'd never seen-- threw me.   Tears, as I leaned against the kitchen counter.  


C.O.D.?   Comfort on Delivery...comfort I miss so much, but have such memories of, and comfort that I am hopefully able to give my own children.   It is possible to be overcome by thankfulness and sadness. 



 
 
 

Monday, 24 February 2014

Solid Amidst the Noise

I have made some big changes in my on-line reading, posting, and social media activity.  I identified with this piece by Charlie Brooker when he describes the noise of the media in our world and even with his realization that such a post was "Olympic naval-gazing":

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jul/28/too-much-talk-charlie-brooker

Yes, there's just too much noise for me, too.   There is too much clever strategy in creating and advancing images, making contacts and connections.   My friends on Facebook really don't need (or want) to hear my thoughts on daily events or news events.   At times, in the blogger world, it seems there are people in little circles getting all worked up over something that is going on in those little circles while the vast majority of the world isn't even aware of the situation or the people talking about it.   I didn't want to be permanently sucked into the orbits of those little worlds.   Plus, any on-line reading takes time away from reading my never-ending and always-growing pile of books.   Oh, and there's this life of mine I'm supposed to be living and experiencing.   So, I post less on this blog and my food blog.   I pulled back from deadlines and commitments as a contributor to sites.   I still have bursts of time when I pin on Pinterest, but I use the ideas.   It's so much less clutter than my old method of cutting out pictures and articles from magazines.

I still read the personal family blogs of friends, but as for other blogs, there is only one that I read regularly: SHIRT OF FLAME by author Heather King.   I even check it nightly for new posts.   Her latest post is almost a summary of why I seek out her writing amidst all that is out there.   There is her true talent as a writer (who also has a blog), her honesty, and her knowledge of when she has really gained insight.   She understands deep truth and the long periods of time it can take to come to such truth.   That alone sets her memoirs apart from so many others.   It always surprises me when someone tells me I should, or could, write a memoir.   I know I haven't reached a point of really delving deep into what my life has taught me.  I've barely reached below the surface and my posts on this personal blog are part of those excavations.  


The beginnings of my spaghetti sauce: it's not much until it's simmered for six hours.


If I tried to highlight the best bits of the latest post by Heather King, I'd just have to cut-and-paste the whole thing, but this part, especially, is so true, and something for me to remember:


I have a huge ego. I'm overly, some might say, morbidly sensitive. I feel every slight, doubt, criticism keenly. I'm very much aware of status, or lack thereof: professional, social, literary.  When I first converted, I was approached by a major publisher to write my story. I dripped my blood, sweat and tears over a proposal which, after many cliff-hanging months, was rejected. My disappointment was bitter. Yet the more time elapses, the more I see that nothing could have been more damaging than having received attention and acclaim early on simply for having converted. Converted to what? The fruit of conversion takes most of us many years, preferably of relative failure and invisibility, to even begin to form. (my emphasis added)

 Thus, over the intervening eighteen years, I haven't curried favor; I've made friends. Not because I'm such a great friend, but because I NEED friends. Because at the end of the day, you need friends way more than you need success. Because friends are both a gift and a responsibility, and if you are not on a two-way street that requires you to give and to receive to the limit of your strength, you're missing out. 
The interesting thing is that while you consent to appear out-of-step, irrelevant, and weak, your house is built on solid rock. You're marginally humble (if for no other reason than that the evidence overwhelmingly points in that direction) and you also have a weirdly unwavering sense, even if no-one else much does, of who you are IN CHRIST and of your worth.  (my emphasis added)


Read the whole piece:

http://shirtofflame.blogspot.com/2014/02/kill-marketers.html



Saturday, 15 February 2014

Happy St. Valentine's Day 2014



Now that I'm Catholic, I can share the whole story with my children:)


I'm not sure why Mama made a big deal out of Valentine's Day for me.   In elementary school, she and I would make sugar cookies the night before.   During my senior year of high school, I worked in the child development lab of our Home Economics department.   It was a working preschool for children of teachers and others in the community.   Mama felt like she knew each child from the stories I brought home.   She and I decided to make special cookie stacks for each child on Valentine's Day.   They were a huge hit and I like to make them for my children, too.   Sometimes we share them with friends and neighbors, but this year, I did well just to make them for us.   The recipe and instructions are here.


 

I love the simple sweetness of Valentine's Day in the elementary years.   I have fond memories of addressing my valentines the night before and of class parties with red punch, sugar cookies, and obscene amounts of candy.   In fourth grade, we had a mailbox contest and I decorated a beautiful shoebox.   We also had a poetry contest, which I won.   I loved Valentine's Day when I taught elementary school, but how I dreaded that day when I taught middle school.   So many arguments, tears, and hurt feelings!   It really can turn into the tackiest day of the year as any walk through the floral department of your local supermarket (especially in a college town) on February 14 will prove.   So, I am savoring these sweet years and doing what I can to have our own fun at home.




I had the kitchen table ready for making valentines when the girls came home from school.   Dollar stores and after-holiday clearance helped me do these on the cheap.





 


Clare's valentines were little plastic frog jumper toys.   I wrote the tags and she placed the stickers and signed her name.   We did our part to add a non-candy dimension to the class party.








Emmeline's valentines included a notepad and pencil.   She wrote the tags: "Take Note: I'm wishing you a Happy Valentine's Day!"   Again, a non-candy option!


 


They each made good 'ol construction paper cards for their teachers.   The cute banner was only $1 at King Dollar!   I have one for St. Patrick's Day and Easter, too.







Sweet little brother looking on


I went to Wal-Mart to buy Granny Smith apples so I could make mini pies for the girls' teachers with a note attached: "You are the Apple of My Pie!"   I walked in through the garden center and found these little pots of tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils for only 98 cents each.   Good-bye, pie-baking.   Hello, plants!




I wrapped the pots in brown craft paper (only a $1 a roll at Dollar Tree!), tied them with pretty ribbon and attached felt heart tags to each one.




I'm a big fan of brown craft paper (and brown craft paper bags) for gifts.   You can use it for any occasion, for any person.   I buy ribbon on sale during the year, so I have it on hand to dress up gift bags and packages.    To make pretty bows, the key is wired ribbon.   Below is a birthday package I recently gave a friend.   Both ribbons were left over from rolls I used to decorate the table at  Emmeline's First Communion party.   The sprigs were season-end clearance sprays from a craft store.   I separated the stems, put them end to end and wrapped them with tape at the middle.   Then, I slid them under the bow for a pretty accent.  




The gift tags on the teachers' plants were Christmas ornaments I bought on sale for at least 75% off; I think they were probably cheaper than that.   I bought them for Valentine's Day.




The girls, with sun in their eyes, loaded with their Valentine's goodies, and ready to go to school:




The after-school picture, so I could see their cute heart shirts:




Presents waiting for them when they came home, but they had to wait for Daddy to get home so he could watch them open up their bags:




I have made my children homemade chocolate mousse, cannoli, etc., etc., but what made me their hero?   I made Jello jigglers for the first time!   They had those and heart-shaped rice krispy treats and then a heart-shaped pizza from Papa Murphy's for supper:




My pretty gift for Valentine's Day.   I prefer a plant to cut flowers most of the time.   I told Joey not to get anything (and I really meant it).  This is from my favorite floral department in our area which is located in a locally-owned, non-chain grocery store.   They wrap pots in brown craft paper:)





This is my favorite Valentine's Day decoration, painted by Mama, who always made the day special for me.




Mama didn't sign everything, but this is one of the pieces with her painting signature:

Monday, 10 February 2014

Yo, ho, Mateys: A Pirate Birthday


About a year and a half ago, our then next-door-neighbor showed up on my doorstep with a huge bag in her hands.  "Could you use this?   I'm just going to throw it away if you don't want it."   A big bag of free?   Always.   "Sure," I said.   Then, I stuffed it in the closet, without looking at its contents, just knowing it was pirate stuff left over from a birthday party.   Every time it was in my way, I considered, for the briefest of moments, throwing the whole lot out.   But then I remembered it was free and I shoved it aside as I looked for the latest lost item.
 
Last fall, Netflix added Disney's Jake and the Neverland Pirates to their line-up and Thomas was an instant fan.   At Halloween, he wanted to be Jake, specifically.   I nudged him toward a cheaper costume so he was a pirate, generally.  
 
 
 
 
 For the next two months, he told us all about his Jake and the Neverland Pirates (you have to say the whole thing, not just Jake or just Pirate) party he was going to have for his birthday.   Since his birthday is New Year's Eve, he had our little family cake and gift day on his actual birthday and then waited another month for his big party.   Our kids have simple, family-only often, parties, but on the big years--1, 5, 10, 16--I make more effort and the theme is carried further.   According to Pinterest, what I call big effort is what some people consider average.  
 
And that big bag of pirate party supplies from our generous neighbor?   Awesomeness in a bag, they were!   The bag was filled with decorations, favors,complete craft kits, and unopened packages of plates and napkins.   Even better, my friend, Amber, is hosting a Jake and the Neverland Pirates party next week for her nephew, so I packed up the decorations and supplies for her to take home.   That's the way to do children's birthday parties.

 
 
I really need to keep journals of my party planning because they would make for hilarious reading, for me, anyway.   When I first begin, I have the most outrageous ideas which are always tamped down by reality.   On Pinterest, I saw a table made to look like a ship.   The table was covered in a black fabric tablecloth.   On top, fabric and dowels formed sails.   I got as far as a black plastic tablecloth.   Really, that is a purchased party tablecover, not a garbage bag.   Thomas was surprised to wake up and find everything decorated.   He woke me up and told me I had to come see what had happened as if I would be surprised, too.  
 

 


All of the food was inspired by Pinterest finds, except the coleslaw in the far left corner.   Emmeline had the idea to call it Mr. Smee's Seaweed, which I thought was pretty clever.   I am now known for my cheese balls (HEB Extreme Cheese cheese puffs).





The Pixie Dust bags were from the wedding favors section of King Dollar.   Run, don't walk, to King Dollar for your next children's party!   I filled them with star-shaped confetti, also from King Dollar.




For the centerpiece, I stacked books (French Polity, anyone?) at varying heights beneath the tablecloth.   Varied heights is what makes a pretty, or interesting, serving table.    The copper mug was just something we own (because we would), along with the sea-colored stones.   The chest, compass, and doubloons were part of the free items given to me by my neighbor.   The sword was from Thomas's Halloween costume.




The fish bait was the most popular thing on the table.   I have three of those mini tubs and I use them often, lined with wax paper for serving food.   The fruit was easy to serve on skewers and it lasted longer that way.   I made the sails from scrapbook paper (on sale!) and bamboo skewers I already had on hand.  In the background are "Cubby's Carrot Sticks."




"Make Your Own Pirate Hat, Eye Patch, and Sword" Station: totally F*R*E*E, compliments of my neighbor:)




Those balloons and banners have been hanging in my kitchen since December 31.   That's what we usually do for the kids' birthday.   We knew he'd eventually have a party.




Treasure "chest" w/party favor bags

The garland on the window is made of bandanas tied together, with foam swords between each.   The garland was left over from Clare's Jessie cowgirl party.   Some cute kids, aren't they?



I went Old School for his cake, with a yellow sheet cake, cut into simple shapes to form something that everyone recognized as a ship.   Licorice whips and Life Savers candies were the details.   Emmeline drew the map on craft paper.   That was a last-minute idea of mine.   She also made the treasure hunt (to find the piƱata) for the guests.   She and her friend, Ellie, led the kids on the hunt.   How awesome are big girls?!   Pretty awesome.

Joey and I realized our kids had not eaten a boxed cake at home.   We were both craving that particular taste, so I made a boxed cake, with some doctoring.   I used buttermilk in place of the water, added an extra egg, increased the amount of oil, and added a teaspoon of vanilla.  It did cut the chemical taste.   I'm not a foodie snob.   When Emmeline was allergic to milk and eggs, boxed cakes weren't an option, so I only made cakes from scratch.   They're not difficult so I continued after she outgrew those allergies.   I will always make homemade frosting, though.   I won't budge on that one.   The chemical list on the ingredients of frosting is even worse than that on a box cake.





I love to watch how shy children become when everyone is looking at and singing to them.




 
 
 
Presents???!!!   This is only the  second time we've had guests for his birthday, so this was pretty exciting.
 




My Aunt Betty, my mother's older sister, drove in from Austin.   The kids loved being "grandmothered" and some of my friends and I took her out for a girls' night that evening.   It was a special memory to treasure.   Aunt Betty stayed up with me until 2:00 in the morning before the party and she washed every dish I used almost as soon as I set it down.

Clare does not normally have a tattoo...



Aunt Amber, my dear friend since my senior year of high school,  always comes for birthdays, making the 3- hour drive each time.   This time, she couldn't leave work early, so she drove in the day of the party.   I was so excited that she could just enjoy the party and that she didn't have to help with preparations, since she does so much for us all.




It was a great party and the best part of all was that guests stayed most of the day.   The adults milled around the kitchen, visiting and then we settled in the living room.   The kids played together beautifully, the sun was shining, and it was just a relaxing Saturday.   Thanks be to God for the blessings of family and friends!



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