Saturday, 29 December 2012

Reborn & Repurposed

The final Sunday of Advent turned out to be such a special one for me.   I chose to drive past our home parish to attend 5:30 mass at a chapel owned by another parish as part of its school complex.   It was once the building for a large Baptist congregation.   The Catholic parish bought the building when the Baptist church built a bigger building.   It has since been decorated, blessed, and dedicated for Catholic worship.

There's something about this chapel to which I strongly relate.   Maybe because it, too, has been reborn for a Catholic life and purpose.   It still holds remnants of its Protestant, or non-Catholic, past.   The Crucifix hangs in what seems a striking blue frame to some.   To the knowing eye, the crucifix hangs above what once served as the baptistry, the pool where baptisms as public signs of accepting Christ, not sacraments of regeneration, occurred.    The baptistry is now framed by the crucifix, a symbol and the Tabernacle that contains the reality to which the symbol points us.   The large stage that once held the preacher's sermon and choir's music as the center of worship now provides ample room for two lecterns, the choir, celebrants and attendants, statues, floral decorations, and a beautiful tabernacle.    The screen and projection system now help Catholics still learning the new order of the mass.   Kneelers have been added onto the pews, spaced so that it is easier to bring knees to floor rather than cushion.   It is all still useful, just re-purposed.   It didn't have to be thrown out and everything started anew.   It could be rededicated, blessed, and serve as the foundation for all that would come.

I grew up unchurched in the heart of the Bible Belt.   When Christmas and Easter came around, the name of this wonderful Jesus filled conversations, even school lessons, if not from faith, then from superstition, or maybe a little of both.   As Flannery O' Connor wrote, "while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted."   In the springtime came the revivals of the both the indoor and tent varieties.   Enthusiastic classmates would go around at recess asking, "Have you been saved?" of every child they encountered.    I went home in confusion, asking if I had "been saved."   Tell them, "You're a Christian," was Mama's reply, although we only attended Church of Christ services on the three Sundays each year when my Grandparents visited.   They didn't even visit every year, as they grew older and less able to travel.

At Christmas and Easter, I especially longed for Jesus.   I longed for that baptismal pool, first as a result of peer pressure, then later, as a sure need and desire.   I longed for the services, concerts, activities of the Christmas season and the rest of the year that brought fellowship to my Protestant friends.

Last Sunday, I sat, a baptized Catholic.   At home, with the Word and the Word Made Flesh in the Eucharist as the the focus of our worship.   I had the fellowship that comes form joining in the same mass with my fellow sinners, fellow brothers and sisters, around the globe.   Saved, still being saved, and hopefully, by the grace of God, I will be saved.   No need to throw out the good from my past.   No need to remove myself from the good people in my life who aren't Catholic.   Like the chapel--like me--it's all been reborn, blessed and repurposed.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Christmas Day

I can't access the camera roll on my iPhone.   I haven't bought a new digital camera because it's just been too easy to use my phone that seems to be with me at most times.    Fortunately, I e-mailed a few of our Christmas pictures in an effort to make room on the phone and I have those to share.

We continued our tradition of attending midnight mass.   Clare and Emmeline wore their beautiful dresses and Thomas wore footed pjs.   Really, there is such a small window of time when it is acceptable to wear pajamas to church, we really should take advantage of it!   The music was beautiful and I love making mass the first thing we do on Christmas Day.   As I sat there, I thought about Christians in times long ago, before the Victorians made Christmas the family holiday that the world celebrates today.   Imagine in medieval times when mass and a feast, not numerous presents, were the main focus of the day.   Surely midnight mass and the meal which traditionally followed must have been so exciting.   It was one of those moments where I felt Catholic, knowing I was joining in the ancient liturgy with Christians around the world.

There was great excitement over the first gift of the day: Jesus who was placed in the manger.   I have some cute pictures of that.   Maybe one day I'll have them.

Santa was especially good to the children this year.   They were a little worried about my reaction to one gift that was for them all.   They know my opinions of such things.   Santa must have seen them playing sports and dance games at the homes of good friends.   He must have thought it would be a nice thing to have when the weather makes for indoor play as the only option.   That Santa!

The girls were further surprised by the big man.   They keep walking around with their American Girl dolls saying, "I just can't believe he really brought me this!"

Clare got a Bitty Baby.

Emmeline got Kit.

Thomas was delighted with a toy bow and arrow.   He's been alternating between being Robin Hood and Hawkeye.   He also got an Imaginex fighter plane with a removable pilot!

In addition to their Santa gifts, there were Legos, games, Barbies, doll accessories, train cars, more planes, and a digger for Thomas to sit on and operate in a sand box.   

I always worry about going overboard for gifts.   I am always so touched and impressed by families who limit children to three gifts, just like the number Jesus received.   The problem is that our children have no living grandparents and they aren't going to receive gifts from other relatives.   So, it's up to us and we have fun buying them special gifts.   My friend Regina gave me good advice this year when she told me it's our family to do Christmas with as we see fit and we just need to be thankful for what we can do for our children.   Wise words indeed!

Wreaths: Advent Preparations

 I really enjoy making wreaths.   I was inspired this year by a trip to downtown Bryan after Thanksgiving with a friend.   We saw some beautiful southern-style decorations and I set about making much-needed new wreaths for our front door and above our mantle.

Front Door Wreath

First, can we just take a moment to appreciate the beauty of a red door at Christmas?!

This is a real wreath, but it didn't make it until Christmas.   We get some intense morning sun on the front of our house.   It makes the paint on the door slightly tacky to the touch and sometimes you can barely grasp the hot door handle.  So, a week before Christmas, I transferred all the pieces to an artificial wreath.   It will make next year a little easier!   I used artificial red roses that were expensive, so beginning in October, I went once a week to Michael's and picked up a stem with one of my 40% off coupons.   I cut the stems apart so I could spread the blooms and leaves around the wreath.   Then, I used golden pinecones (matte finish), along with a bow I made from some gorgeous ribbon (50% off at Hobby Lobby).   Not only is this southern in feel, but it also reminds me of my wedding bouquet, which was a combination of Christmas greens, a dozen and half red roses, and golden pinecones.    One day, my camera and laptop issues will be solved and I will have a proper picture of that wedding bouquet below.

Phone and laptop issues: picture this right-side up, please.   You get the idea of what the bouquet looked like and that was the point of this.
Mantle Wreath

I made the front door wreath before my bout with pneumonia.  A week after my diagnosis, my husband brought me all the materials and I was able to sit and construct the wreath for our mantle.   I was very happy with the results.   I used a large artificial wreath, an artificial magnolia and leaves and other elements that looked like real dried plants.   For the bow and streamers I used burlap ribbon and a green one with fleur-de-lis trimmed in gold.   It really needs two streamers coming down from the bow centers in both types of ribbon.   Maybe next year!

Thursday, 27 December 2012

The Twelve Days of Christmas and Beyond:

My latest post is up at

By the time this is posted, my family and I will hopefully be settled in, snug and happy, in our home on Christmas Day.    While our family is still trying to find our way through our Advent observance, we have made some progress when it comes to celebrating a Catholic Christmas.

To read more

Sunday, 23 December 2012

An Image of Christmas

Hand-carved table-top nativity scenes, life-sized nativities, Christmas trees aglow, the wonder of children's faces: they are all images brought to mind during this holy season and I love them all.   When I think about the image that stays with me, that links my childhood to adulthood and never fails to prompt contemplation, it is an unlikely scene that stands out from the rest.   

Growing up in Louisiana, I saw extreme poverty in rural areas.   On the farm next to ours, there lived an elderly man who was called, "Preacher."   He worked on the farm and his small home was just beyond our fence.   People passing by would probably refer to his home as a shack and as technical definitions go, they would not be incorrect.   There was one main room which had at its center a free-standing wood stove.   There was no air conditioning in the summertime and Preacher spent most of his spare time on his tiny front porch rather than indoors.

Such shacks were a fixture in the landscape that passed by my window on our family's many drives.   Sometimes we were driving with a proper destination in mind, such as a cattle sale, show, or field day at a farm.   Other times, we were just driving for recreation.   For my father's recreation.   I would assume my position in the backseat, gazing out the window, taking in the scenery that inspired my daydreams or barely noticing the familiar sites as I got lost in the world of my imaginings.  

I knew these humble dwellings in the light of day.   Old ringer washers and retired upholstered furniture  might occupy space on their front porches.   Children's bikes and toys often littered the yard beyond flower beds that neatly lined either side of wooden steps that led up to the front door.   In the winter, the tell-tale smoke puffing from a stovepipe gave evidence of the stove that heated the home and probably provided a means of cooking.   Different thoughts went through my mind.   I was more thankful for my lovely, comfortable home.   I felt a bit guilty because I had a lovely, comfortable home.   I worried about fires for the families caused by rudimentary electrical wiring or the flames of the stove.   I wondered how the children inside felt.   I wondered if the children on their school bus also lived in similar housing or if they were in better circumstances.   Did they face ridicule as the bus slowed to a stop in front of their homes?   No matter how happy the reason for the drive, the sight of those homes along a rural Louisiana highway made for somber moments.

But then there were the night drives on those familiar highways.   Now, those mere shacks shone with a cheery and welcoming light in their windows.   Against the black night, with no city lights or even street lamps, the glow from those windows transformed those shacks into homes.   And at Christmas time, how the transformation was complete!   Outlined with simple large, multi-colored bulbs, those shacks, so sobering to passer-bys during the harsh sun-lit hours, became quaint little cottages.   They resembled gingerbread houses and I can honestly say, I have yet to see the grandest decorated home that can rival those humble homes.

Even my imagination changed in the light of those night-time houses.   Honestly, I moved from pity to sometimes wistfulness.   I would think about how different things could look at night.    In the dark, in the quiet, in the stillness.  The tell-tale marks of poverty disappeared and light from within and without now defined those homes.    I would think about the magic of Christmas.   Even those in humble circumstances could participate in the celebration.   I almost felt as if their simple decorations were much more satisfying than the magazine-spread decor that awaited us at home.

The dark.   Where poverty remains to so many Americans.   So many people live such sheltered lives that they can't imagine the poverty of places like the inner city or the rural south, places where either time marches across or time was left behind.    Where Mary awaited the birth of her son in a humble stable, its blackness broken only by meager lamplight.   Where hurts and pain lie in the recesses of our hearts and minds.   Where the disciples slept whilst Jesus prayed with his whole being.   Where Peter thrice forsake his Lord by the servant's fire.   Where Jerusalem descended as Christ drew His last breath on the cross.

In the quiet.   Where we contemplate, looking for hope or where we give in to worry.   Where we find peace from a noisy world.   Where things are more simple and truth stands out from the distractions.

In the stillness.   Where we listen to the breaths of our sleeping children and gaze upon their resemblance to the angels.   Where we can breathe.   Where the quiet leads.    Where we hear God speak to our hearts.

In humility.

On our journey of faith, the Church gives us seasons of darkness, stillness, and quiet, so different from Ordinary time and the celebrations of Christmas and Easter.   We wait in quiet and darkness through Advent for the birth of our Savior.   In the history of God's chosen people who anticipated the Messiah.   In the stable.   In the night sky where there appeared a special star.    We wait in quiet and the darkness throughout Lent for our Savior's crucifixion and resurrection.   In the parable where we hope to count ourselves among the wise virgins with lamps lit.   In the garden with the disciples.  In the courtyard with Peter.    In the tomb.

But like Christ Himself, the Church never leaves us in the darkness.   This Christmas, as those before, the Church walks into the dark of midnight and joyfully shines her light of faith into the world, proclaiming that Christ is born!   No matter how broken, unsightly, or poor--in body, in spirit, in mind, in circumstances--we are welcomed to take our place amongst the festivities.    When we enter into the quiet and stillness, grace transforms us and the light of faith illumines our ordinary outlooks and concerns.   Then, piling mystery upon mystery, we can be humble lights to each other as we journey in faith.

Dear Lord, thank you for breaking the  darkness of Advent with your light.   Thank you for grace and the gift of faith to light my path amongst the ordinary and the extraordinary.   Thank you for those many people you've used in my life to light the way closer to you.   Amen.

A Blessed Advent

As I wrote earlier, my Advent was not what I planned.   I spent the first three weeks only leaving the house to drop the girls off at school and then to pick them up in the afternoon.   I did my Christmas shopping only a few days before Christmas.   I was able to really rest and recover from pneumonia and the other health issues I've dealt with this year.

We couldn't find the Advent wreath, so the arrangement in the picture above was our family's Advent centerpiece.   Mary, pregnant with Hope incarnate and Joseph guiding them on their way to Bethlehem.    A single candle to inspire and remind us of the anticipation of Christ.   And beautiful flowers: a get-well gift from a friend.

It was a season of blessing: rest and quiet, though forced, that I needed.   Less busy-ness and lessons in what is important and necessary.   I didn't get to make homemade treats for teachers because I was too tired, but gift cards and other store-bought gestures, along with hand-written  notes of gratitude worked just fine.   One pie for our Christmas dinner was great; no one suffered.    Declining invitations to get-togethers was hard, but it turns out I didn't miss out on friendship.

The most amazing part of it all was the kindness and generosity of friends.   People volunteered to baby-sit although that wasn't an option with runny noses and our oldest one having the flu the week before Christmas.   We had delicious meals delivered to our door so many nights and I didn't have to worry about cooking dinner.   That was so helpful for me and the whole family.   I can never adequately express what it meant to me.

It wasn't the Advent I planned, but it was the one I needed.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Pre-Christmas School Fun

 The last day of school before the Christmas break was Pajamas Day.   Clare was a *little* excited about that!   Sweet Emmeline had the flu and missed the whole week of school.   Her teacher sent classroom treats from the party, along with get-well cards from her classmates.   She was pleasantly surprised!

One thing I missed out on during my homeschooling years was homemade arts and crafts that didn't depend upon me.  Clare brought home this sweet ornament: snowmen made from her handprint with a touching poem attached.   Love.

Still life from art center: apples in a bowl.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012


This is not the Advent I planned.   Not that I'd planned an elaborate one, mind you, but I did expect to begin the season with evening mass (it's just so lovely during Advent to leave mass in the dark) and then each night, hang one ornament on our Jesse tree, light the candle on the Advent wreath, and pray the accompanying prayers and scriptures.

The season began Sunday, in Urgent Care, with a two-hour wait.   The day before Thanksgiving, my youngest daughter and I went to Urgent Care, where we were diagnosed with sinus infections.   We were both put on a round of Amoxicillin.   She gradually got better. But I really didn't recover.   The sinus pressure, headaches, and post-nasal drip continued.   Last week, I started running fever and getting chills.   Then came the cough, which although it never reminded me for the fifth time to take out the trash or put my shoes away, still qualified as being of the nagging variety.  So, I did what I was supposed to do and made a follow-up visit Friday to a most efficient ENT doc.   In and out in three minutes and he didn't even need to listen to my lungs to just prescribe a stronger antibiotic and send me on my way!

Saturday was my oldest daughter's 9th birthday.   She chose to invite a special friend out for a painting session at a local ceramics shop and lunch.   They had a great time and other than a sinus headache, I managed fine, although I was wiped out that evening.  My friend, Amber, came into town for the weekend and she helped me; she even made soup for us.

Sunday morning, I sat in a chair outside and made a Christmas wreath--of sorts--for Amber.   We decided to go get Sonic drinks (my sincerest sadness for anyone reading this who is unfamiliar with this fast-food treat) and on the drive home, something spilled from a long-forgotten cup.   It was one of those spills that required immediate action, so as soon as we pulled into the driveway, I set about vacuuming, spraying, and scrubbing.   Sweat was pouring down and I was really weak when my cleaning frenzy ceased.   Then, the cough returned, but deeper, with no satisfaction, and I started wheezing while having trouble catching my breath.  I didn't want to get caught having to visit the ER at midnight,so I headed to Urgent Care.   As much as I loved my rural childhood, I never want to live far from quality 24/7 medical care.   I am so thankful we even have multiple choices in our twin cities.

So to Urgent Care where a wonderful nurse and doctor listened to my whole story--and my lungs--before ordering a chest x-ray.   A little more waiting.   The technician had to turn the system on and off twice before it would properly load.   A short wait for results from Radiology to confirm a diagnosis of pneumonia.   It wasn't a short enough wait for the doctor, I guess.   I heard her on the phone asking for the results NOW.   I really do love her.   I also overheard a nurse telling her a doctor wouldn't come in on a case.   The doctor said, "Why not.  He gets paid for his time, same as I do.".  Then she proceeded to get on the phone and explain things in the same way to that doctor!   Yeah, I love her.

So, now it's two days later and I'm waiting for the medicines to work.   I'm still weak, coughing, and wheezing, but I'm more alert than yesterday.   Like, alert enough to sit up in bed, typing this post.    And it turns out I'm probably having a more fruitful Advent than anything I could have planned.   In this season of waiting, I'm waiting.   I'm waiting on my sweet three-year-old son to pop into my room and give me another kiss on the forehead.   I'm waiting to see my daughters who won't be home until late this evening because my husband will leave work early to pick them up for me and then take them back the school where he works while he finishes his day's work.   I'm waiting on meals from dear friends who asked to help.   I'm accepting the offer after initial hesitation, because I had to face it that I needed help, if only for the rest of the family who need a recovered mama.   I'm not consumed with December business because I just can't.

Advent isn't about mere waiting, though.   It' about expectant waiting; it's about anticipation.   Even as I sit, pausing to cough with what is sometimes the effort of my whole frame, with laundry needing attention in my line of vision, and the worrying silences from the other parts of the house where my son necessarily occupies himself, the air around me is pregnant with hope.   I have been tired and ill--off-and on--with migraines and ulcerative colitis flares for a year now.   With this pneumonia, I have been forced to rest.  I just admitted that I couldn't host the book club Christmas party and accepted a friend's offer to do so.   There was a time when I came frightfully close to living for things like that.   I'm no longer that person who would have risked a relapse to decorate for and host a Christmas party.   I once pushed myself for a party days before I was admitted to hospital for emergency back surgery.  

I admitted that I need help.  Hope isn't just about the future.   It's also about recognizing, in today, the changes God has wrought in our lives by how far we've progressed.   That recognition reassures us that further progress is possible.   My Advent holds all that the accessories of the season represent to us.   The circle of God, like the circular wreath of evergreen.   The circle of His ever-watchful arms around us and the love He shows that knows no end.   The dim, but ever-brightening, light of grace, gradually shedding light on the truths of His faithful precence in our lives.   And the whole story of the past--of God's kept-promise throughout salvation history--large-scale on our Jesse Trees and played out small-scale as we reflect on our own journeys of faith.

Oh, Radiant Dawn, come to me.   For now, for this rare moment, I am truly waiting.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

9 Years Old!

First school picture!

 Sweet Emmeline is nine years old!

This year, Emmeline has started public school for the first year.   She is adjusting well and loves third grade.   She especially loves her teachers!    She reads as often as she gets the chance.   She also likes watching Doctor Who.   She still loves to draw and create things.   For her birthday, she got a Barbie doll and clothes, a carousel of crayons, and a crystal-growing kit.

She chose to invite a friend out to lunch and to U-Paint-It, a local ceramics shop in town.   They had so much fun creating their little trinket boxes.   Clare chose to paint a ladybug bank.   Amber came into town for her birthday.   It was a special day for a special girl.

I am so thankful God gifted us with such a special girl!

Monday, 19 November 2012

Baptism Gowns & First Communion Dresses

By this time last year, I was already shopping for our family First Communion dress.   As I have posted before, I like bargains and I will save costs where I can.   Even my wedding dress was a great price.   That wasn't exactly on purpose, as it was the one I wanted at first glance, but I did work the summer before our wedding to pay for it.   My parents had paid for my college education so that I started my career with no college debt, so I thought I could handle paying for the dress.

Simple empire waist, with white pearl beading on bodice.   Mama and I made my veil. 

There have been a few times, though, when I didn't worry about costs.   One such time was when we purchased the baptism gown that would become our family baptismal gown.   We bought it before our eldest daughter's baptism and it has been used by all three children.   It is beautiful linen with hand-knitted lace trim on the gown and matching bonnet.   It is a design that can be used for girls or boys.   On the slip of the gown, we have had each child's initials and baptism date embroidered by our friend, Amber.   As a convert who was never baptized until Easter Vigil almost sixteen years ago, it was important to buy a gown that would be a family heirloom and establish a tradition in our family.

Emmeline's Baptism

Clare's Baptism

Thomas' Baptism

I felt the same way when our eldest prepared to receive the Holy Eucharist for the first time last spring.   I found a wonderful company, Embroidered Heirlooms, who offered beautiful, age-appropriate dresses for little girls, in addition to a line of baptism gowns.   I love the company's motto: "Honoring the Innocence and Beauty of Childhood."   Each dress is custom-made.   The dress we ordered will be used by both of our daughters and they can pass it down to their own daughters.   Emmeline's initials and First Communion date were embroidered on the slip of the dress.   Clare's will be added after her special day.   Since they are custom-made, you need to place your order months in advance.

Beautiful, elegant detailing

So sweet and feminine

These are monumental, life-changing, life-giving events and we took great care in selecting the family heirloom gowns for them.  Mama tried to teach me to prioritize when it came to spending money.   I've not regretted a penny spent on our gown and dress and I look forward to seeing them used again in the future.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

A Really Big Purse

I'm sure that my family was no different in that we had stories that were told and re-told over the years.   These were usually humorous anecdotes and I suppose those which involved children made up the majority of the tales.  

Mama like to tell a story about me and a purse.   It was not uncommon for our family to visit cattle farms and ranches on Saturdays.   One of our common destinations was the ranch of a family friend, Mr. Berchman.   He was a Cajun character.   His life seemed to be a series of exciting stories and it was always interesting to visit his home.   When I was about four, we went for a visit and I accidentally left behind a little coin purse.   We visited again about a month later and I found that Mr. Berchman had not only kept the purse for safe-keeping, but he had filled it with pennies.

A few months later, we visited Mr. Berchman again.   Mama would always laugh as she described catching sight of me out of the corner of her eye as we prepared to leave Mr. Berchman's house after that visit.   She said I was trying to put the purse I'd brought--one of her really big ones that had escaped her attention--under a pillow on the couch.

Spiritually speaking, I'm taking the really big purse to God.  And I feel like I'm sneaking in to do it.  I remember all the times before when He's filled me with His grace in ways I hadn't expected.    I know he can fill me in the small amounts I need, but I feel like I need a huge outpouring right now.    So, I know my destination--mass, confessional, adoration, prayer and devotion time--and I'm being emptied so He has more room to fill me, in a really big way.

Part I of The Hostess Series: Piecing Together the Basics

When I write about parenting or marriage, I come from the vantage of one on a journey who can simply share mistakes and little insights along the way.   I am far from feeling that I have any solid wisdom to share on those topics.   One area where I have a little more confidence from experience is that of entertaining, or what we used to call "having people over," before the days of cable networks dedicated completely to food, decorating, crafts, and parties.

My confidence stems from lessons learned from my mama and experience from almost sixteen years of marriage.  One of my friends who shares my love of hospitality always expresses gratitude that she was trained by her mother to make her home and events welcoming to others.   It is a precious gift and one that I think may have skipped a generation or two in recent times.    I really do enjoy having friends and family in our home.   I like to welcome people, nurture them and make them feel at home.   I never let our circumstances deter us from that.   Our first home was  a one-bedroom apartment, with a tiny dining area tucked into one side of the living area.   Standing in the middle of the kitchen, you could almost touch any part of the space.   We still had luncheons, dinners and movie nights there.

When we moved to Texas, we upgraded to a two-bedroom apartment in a four-plex.   The still-galley-style kitchen was slightly larger and the dining space gave a little more room to move around our little dinette table ($20 garage sale find, with one table and four chairs).   Again, we hosted couples, single friends, Christmas parties, and even Thanksgiving dinner.   Later would come three houses and children.   We still used our home to welcome people.   Over the years, I learned to plan menus, manage time, clean strategically, and keep costs in check for our circumstances at that time.   This first post in a new series of hostess tips addresses pieces of tableware that serve as great basics for entertaining in your home.

I don't have one style when it comes to tableware and entertaining pieces.  I've hosted everything from formal brunch in our dining room to Godfather movie night in our living room and then hot dog lunches for adults and children.   I have gradually collected basic pieces that work well across styles and events.

My Longaberger baskets are favorites of mine.   Most of them came from Mama.   Some of them were purchased full-price, others at the Longaberger outlet store and that huge bread-style basket was a phenomenal find at a garage sale for FIFTY CENTS.   True story.   I think someone moved into a house, that was left and they had no idea what it was worth.   Longaberger baskets should last a lifetime.   You can also find similar style baskets that are less expensive.   I like the plain style and natural colors.   I use the baskets mainly for breads, crackers, and serving items like napkins or cutlery.   Even something as simple as placing hot dog or hamburger buns in my large bread basket makes my buffet a little more welcoming and homey.    I don't like buying use-specific pieces since they lack versatility and are usually harder to store.   My baskets tend to work with all casual events and blend with any style pieces.   They also store easily since they can stack inside each other.  Baskets come in a variety of styles and some can even coordinate with modern dinnerware and decor.  

Above, a simple basket with a cloth napkin as a liner holds cutlery for a casual buffet.   I always buy nice fabric napkins at garage sales.   They are excellent as bread basket liners.   Decorated handkerchiefs are great for holiday basket liners throughout the year and usually cost only $1 or less at craft stores.    I also like buying inexpensive baskets like the one below that cost a whole $1 at a dollar store.   It's always nice to have on hand for us and it makes such a nice gift when I bring a meal to a family.   I can give them fresh baked rolls or muffins in an attractive basket for less than $2.  

A more rustic bread basket purchased at a dollar store.

From Mama, I learned the beauty and versatility of glass serving pieces.   Most of mine are ones I inherited after she passed away.   She collected them at garage sales.   Some are depression glass pieces, some are modern cut glass, and some are crystal.   They vary in colors and designs, but they all work together in eclectic beauty.   The genius of glass pieces is they can work with any style or color tableware.   The styles available range from old- fashioned, like mine, to sleek and modern.   They can be casual or rise to formality when needed.   In addition to garage sales and thrift shops, look for cut glass pieces at clearance stores or discount stores, especially during the holidays.

Here are a few of my glass pieces.   Cake stands, platform plates, platters, and bowls of varying sizes make up a good basic collection.    The ice bucket in the back is similar to a cookie jar from the same line, but is distinguished by its handle.

A cut glass sugar and creamer set will work with formal china, silver service, or casual tea cups and coffee mugs.   Plus, sugar cubes and real cream just look so pretty in them!

Paper plates have their place and I do make use of them, but I try to limit their use.   I purchased twenty-four appetizer-sized plain glass plates for about $20 ten years ago.   There is less waste and they are more substantial, particularly as guests walk around a space.   They can go with any of my dinnerware sets and they fit easily into the dishwasher.   

 In the pictures directly above and below, you can see my basic glassware and stemware for our everyday fare and casual entertaining.   I bought basic iced tea--or water outside the south--glasses that came in a set with matching juice glasses.   I chose this set because the juice glasses also double as old-fashioned glasses for cocktails like, well, old fashioneds or whiskey sours.   They are useful day-long and year-round for us.   Also, it's a timeless design that I will always be able to find when I need replacements.   In addition, they are easy to hold and will not tip over easily.   You should consider both practicality and comfort of use when choosing pieces.

I even found glass coffee mugs at a dollar store.   I only buy glassware that is made in the USA at such stores so I can feel confident about their safety for food consumption.   These are favorite glasses for friends when we meet for a cup of coffee!
I grew up in a "dry" home, so bar ware is a developing collection for me.   We have a basic wine glass that we use for reds and whites, even though I know I eventually need to have different sizes/styles for each.   The martini glasses are primarily used for frozen margaritas in Texas.   You'd use an old-fashioned for a margarita on the rocks.   The champagne flute is especially for brunch mimosas.  

I have a variety of pitchers and beverage dispensers.   Pictured below are Fiestaware pitchers that match my casual china.   The little creamer always gets at least one exclamation by a guest who appreciates its cuteness!

It's helpful to have at least two glass pitchers: one for water and one for iced tea (in the south, y'all).   I got the carafe on the right at a dollar store.   It is also available at discount chains.   The dispenser in the middle is what we keep in our fridge.   We put it on the counter for parties and gatherings.   I waited for years to buy one that I really liked!

I found my tea caddy on sale for less than $10.   It's just a nice way to present teas to guests.   It's also very attractive on my counter.   I think of the frilly, girly tea parties I have with friends every time I look at it and that makes me smile.

These are both serving pieces I found on the clearance aisle of my local Hallmark gift shop.  The one on the left is a Thanksgiving cracker tray, but it works year-round.   The piece on the right is a ceramic cheese board which came with a matching cheese knife.   I only buy pieces this themed or decorated when I find them at a great price.

When my husband I were married, we did not register for formal china.   We were both school teachers, living in a small apartment and we didn't have an immediate use for it, nor did we have storage space.   Instead, we registered for Fiestaware, made by china company, Homer Laughlin.   I fell in love with Fiestaware when I was in elementary school.   We went to the local nuclear plant for a tour.   In their education building, they had a red Fiesta plate under protective glass as an example of a common item that had small bits of radiation.   Seriously, the original line of Fiesta from the 1930s had red pieces that were a little dangerous.   In the early 1990s, the company re-introduced the line with completely safe colors!   Later, I saw a collection at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.   No other casual dinner set could do for me after that!

We chose a variety of colors so we could mix pieces on our table.   It's intentional at our house that your dinner plate is a different color from your salad plate, which is a different color from your soup bowl...   It makes for a happy, cheery table setting!   These pieces are nice enough that they still give a nice feel to casual dining.   Each year, we add a few more pieces as they go on sale at department stores.   At our wedding, we had so many people who told us how nice it was to be able to buy multiple pieces for a couple without feeling that they had to take out a small loan!

Another wonderful choice for casual dinnerware is classic white.   If you choose a design, make it white-on-white, so it will blend easily with other pieces and it will also be timeless.   If I did not have such a passion for Fiestaware, I would have chosen classic white casual china.

I also have a formal Christmas set of dishes from Pier One (clearance) and a casual one from a discount store for family dining.   Mama always had multiple sets of dishes.   We had a breakfast/lunch set, a supper set, holiday set, and a brown 1970sware set that was only used when we served steak to company.   Really.

A few years after we were married, we finally selected a formal china pattern: India by Wedgwood.   We also selected Waterford crystal.   We wanted all of the pieces to come from the Home Isles, so English china and Irish crystal.   We also wanted a pattern of china that looked at home on a southern table or an Edwardian English table.   Plus, it had to coordinate with the red dining room walls we hoped to have one day.  I think we made a better choice even with a few more years for our tastes to mature.   I've heard several people lament their china choice and wish they had made a different selection as their tastes or needs changed.

Our wedding anniversary is in December, so each year we buy a place setting/and or a piece of crystal as our present for each other.   Right now, we have a full set to serve six and we will keep gradually adding pieces until we have a service for twelve.   We did not select cheap patterns, but we are paying for it and not expecting others to purchase it for us.   Plus, the way it has accumulated will make a nice story for future generations as it is handed down.

Below is a place setting of our china.   It truly is delicate, lovely and worth the wait of yearly purchases.  "Good things come ..." and all that!

With an eye for bargains and versatility, you can assemble a great collection of entertaining basics.   I don't have to go out and buy pieces for events.   I don't have to worry about themes.   I just start with my basic pieces and build from there, with the way I display them and the foods I put upon them.   It's one less thing to worry about and that makes me more likely to extend hospitality to friends and families.   In the end, that's what it's really about.   Having these basics covered allows me to focus on my guests and their comfort.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Hard Sell

I've seen some posts recently on Facebook and Pinterest of the "cute," "amazing," and "fun" things being done in order to teach classroom and home school students about plant and animal cells.   The fact that I've just used three sets of apostrophes does not bode well for my opinions of these cell activities.

Here are a few well-intended examples:

Candies placed atop a gelatin "cell"

Poster board model

Pizza "cells"

and then there's the cake "cell"

When I was in seventh grade, we were given the assignment of making a model of a plant cell and an animal cell.   The normal completed project in our class consisted of poster board models.   The more elaborate ones were formed with play dough.   The teacher showed us best examples from past years of both poster board and play dough versions.   I was all set to make a stunning play dough one as I sat down at our kitchen bar.   Then, my dad walked in.   And asked what I was doing.   Then, came the lecture.   I HATED to hear the words, "Terri, go get me a piece of paper."   Because I knew I was getting ready to get a lecture complete with diagrams.   How that man loved to draw carbon chains.   And I still hate amino acids.

It was that seventh grade year that I learned to hide and do all science assignments in secrecy.   That lesson had not been learned yet, though, so I excitedly told him what I was doing.   He then started explaining and maybe ranting a little about how neither of those could be an accurate representation of plant or animal cells.   It was the only time he got involved in one of my school projects.    I was aggravated because I just wanted to play with play dough and my eyes were starting to glaze over from his lecture on plant and animal cells.   I was also embarrassed to take my final result to class the next week.   I was afraid the teacher might be insulted.   Plus, I just didn't want to take the darn things on the school bus!

It irritated my dad to no end to see that we were being taught to represent the cells as hard, stationary items.
 "They're more fluid than that!"
 "All those parts of a cell move around!"
 " What do you think your body would feel like if it were made up of cells like the poster board or the one made out of dried play dough?!"

After the lecture, Daddy directed me to find my materials.   I'd need two clear air-tight containers to represent the cells.   He told me the hard cases weren't exactly perfect, either, but we couldn't send me to school with zippered storage bags which would have been the closest representation on hand.   Then, I needed some type of clear ball we could fill with cooking oil.   I forget which one of us thought about those balls that hold prizes in gumball machines.  I remember using other things like those 80s black plastic bracelets cut into pieces and a red bouncy ball.    I filled the two containers (a rectangular one for the plant cell and a round one for the animal cell) with water.   Then, I filled the gumball machine spheres with booking oil and the items meant to represent parts within the nucleus.   The oil made the nucleus float within the cell model.   All the other parts were put into the water and I made a diagram to serve as a key for the parts of the cell.   So, within the necessary hard plastic, the cell "parts" were fluid and able to move around.  

I ended up getting an A+ 100.   The teacher said that of course, my dad was right.  I think I stood up and presented my project by beginning with, "My dad MADE me do this because he says..."    It was a very small town, so she already knew he was a Ph. D. and a university professor.    The teacher made me enter the school science fair.   I won 1st place and overall.   I went to the district fair where one of the judges, a biology professor felled me with one simple question, "If this model was done to scale, how long would the __________(I forget the part, now) actually be?"   Blank stare.

 Then, I held my hands about a foot apart and said, "About this long?"

 "It would wrap around this ballroom ______(I forget exactly what huge number to insert here) times."

When I told my dad, he just grinned, like "good one!" and told me I should have been prepared for that.   I was fascinated by scale and portraying it correctly in models after that, particularly in my classroom.

This is just one example of what it was like to live in my house.   Every evening, my dad got home from work while the news was still on.   We had a small television set in our kitchen and it stayed on as we ate.   We talked during the commercials.   I was allowed, even encouraged to give opinions about stories, but I had to be logical and prove them.   So, I either kept my mouth shut or I worked hard to form an argument that I could share at supper.   It's contributed to who I am today.   That can be good, but it can also be annoying and make life a little less enjoyable, I guess.

I'm cynical.  I'm a hard sell.   I like logic, even though I come at it from a liberal arts, not mathematical/scientific, vantage.   I'm not easily moved by emotion on an important issue.   I cry like a baby watching movies and documentaries, but I'm saying I'm not moved to believe by emotion when it comes to something like a political issue.   I watch political debates like I did when I used to judge high school debate tournaments.   I get excited over good moves made by either side and I love to see the results of good coaching and practice in evidence.   I'm not impressed by titles, degrees, or jobs.   He's got a doctorate in ______________.   She teaches at __________________.   He's written ______________.   Fine.   Let me meet him/her, speak to them, read them, watch them in action, and then I'll form my opinions.

It makes me meet my husband at the door with a copy of an article that has me frustrated even though I believe or agree with the author's opinion, but I just can't stand the simplistic or illogical way the author has presented it.   Okay, so I don't do that often.   I usually let him eat first.   One of the many things I love about being Catholic is the Church's scholasticism, history, and the logic of Catholicism.   The understanding of that logic is a gift, though, and not totally due to any intellectual capacity or capability I might dimly possess.  

It leaves me out of things, sometimes, but I'll be honest, I'm still going to raise my children to back up opinions with facts.   I'm still going to make sure they represent things as accurately as possible.   They're going to listen to adult conversation.   Like me, it will be above their level as they're younger and then they'll rise and grow to understanding it.    I try not to lecture though.

And I try to be kind when I tell them to "get me a piece of paper."

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Master Bedroom Challenge: {pretty, happy, funny, real}

This week, Leila at Like Mother, Like Daughter, announced a Master Bedroom Challenge: Make Your Bedroom Beautiful and Useful.   It was a perfectly timed challenge for me.   As part of the Reasonably Clean House series at the blog, Leila recommends beginning the process in your master bedroom.   Her reasoning is right on target, as I've learned after nearly sixteen years of keeping --or trying to keep--our house.  

Our bedroom is last on our list to work on in this house.   Since we moved in over a year ago, we've worked on all the other rooms.   Now, it's time to start making the master bedroom come together.   It's a large wonderful space.   My mama always said the problem with a bigger house/space is it is easier to clutter it and you aren't as wise with organization.   She was right.   Lot of corners and spaces to "store" things in this room until I get to them.   Plus, the kids love coming in to play, as it's the only room that still has wall-to-wall carpeting.  

For this challenge, I just focused on our nook since it was the one causing the most problems.  

Here's what the cozy nook area looked like when we first viewed the house:

On closing day:)
Closing day pic of whole wall with my closet

Here's what if looked like YESTERDAY morning.  If you have young children looking over your shoulder, you might want to shield their eyes.

It is a tremendous humiliation to post this picture, and it should be.   I have been blessed beyond what I deserve (as this picture proves) with a lovely master bedroom, complete with a beautiful spot to pray, drink coffee & tea, read, or just sit with my husband or children.  

Over the past few weeks, I've had oral surgery and two children have had viruses.   Our living rug may not have survived that.   Anyway, the laundry didn't get put away.   Instead it was piled on these chairs and that basket where children pulled out what they needed after sorting through and spreading around the rest.   How demanding: clean clothes each day!    Even before my oral surgery, the chest and surrounding floor space had become a dumping ground.

So, first step to tackle this: open the blinds and let in the sunshine!

Second step: put up my heavy-duty folding garment rack to help with hanging and organizing the clothes.
It was SUCH a help.   I don't have much hanging space in my laundry room, so it's been a hassle to hang clothes on laundry day.   We don't fold many things in our house.   The garment rack is also handy for parties when you need to hang guests' coats and it's a huge help at garage sales.   I originally bought it for a home sales business.

By the afternoon, this is what my little nook looked like and it has changed my attitude and the feel of the whole house for me.   The best part is everything was put away and not just pushed away to be dealt with later!

 My curtains were a tremendous deal.   They cost me $31.50!   The lamp was a garage sale find at $1 and the glider rocker and ottoman were another garage sale splurge at $50.   They looked brand new when I bought them.

The afghan was a wedding present made by my cousin, Linda.   It's one of our favorite possessions and it is THE favorite blanket in the house.   The chifferobe (a wardrobe in Louisana) to the left is  one that my mother rescued from a crumbling antebellum home next to our farm.   How's that for Anne Shirley--delightfully-romantic-shivers-down-the-spine?!  She had the door centers replaced with masonite and painted them.   I wrote about it here.

A room isn't cozy without books!

Divine Mercy, crucifix (wedding gift), and the psalm which most represents my soul at prayer: "O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting."  Psalm 63

Mama's ceder chest.   It was the last thing I cleaned out when we emptied their home after their deaths.   It contained some of our baby clothes, her wedding dress, letters, photos, souvenirs like the paper fan from The Grand Old Opry, where they went on their honeymoon.   That's her painted tray. 

The small print has Psalm 91:11: "He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways."   It was given to me by a dear friend, Karen, when we moved from Louisiana.   The icon print is from a card sent to me at Mama's death by one of her friends.   It was a mass enrollment card and it makes me think of the prayers being  said for Mama and of her friends who loved her.

This is our sacrament shelf on top of the DUSTED bookshelf.   Our wedding picture in the middle, with my RCIA keepsake and one for Joey's confirmation.   Then, each of the children's baptism photos.   LOVE.

I am so thankful for this bedroom challenge to motivate me to take back my space and make it a place of beauty, rest, and contentment.   


Oh, and a little pie thrown it!  Late night baking for our local Catholic radio station's fund-raiser after yesterday's cleaning frenzy!

round button chicken

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