Sunday, May 31, 2009

Praises for Pentecost!

Our Pentecost Mass today was beautiful! Today is the birthday of the Church. I have many things to be thankful for today.

1. The beautiful, sunny, warm weather! Great day for washing the car and the dog.

2. That my children take delight in exploring nature and being creative. Earlier my two younger sons donned rubber gloves and went outside to examine mushrooms in the yard. Right now the three of them are in the driveway with my oldest son's Flip camera, dressed up in costumes and, at the moment, are not arguing.

3. That my garden is growing. I don't know if my labor will produce fruits; time will tell.

4. For my husband, who loves me for ME.

5. Only seven days left until summer vacation!! OK, not really; we teachers (or in my case, teaching assistants) have to work a few more days after the kids are done, but still...

6. For the great Montessori school my boys have attended since my oldest was in Kindergarten, and where I have been employed for the last four years. We've decided to enroll them in Catholic school for next year, and although we are all excited, we will sorely miss our friends we have made. It has truly been a wonderful journey.

7. For the time we spent last weekend with my aunt and many of my cousins; we reunited with them to celebrate another new life! I haven't seen many of my extended family in years, and it was great to get re-acquainted with everyone.

8. For the gift of the Holy Spirit. Too often I take Him for granted.

I'm linking this to Jennifer's blog; check it out! She started the Praises posts, and she's great about posting them every Sunday (unlike me, I'm trying). Have a great week!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Blogs or Books?

I've fallen behind. Not only have I not been posting lately, but I haven't kept up with the blogs I follow very well, either. I spent the last half hour scrolling through some of the posts, and read a few of them, but left no comments. I suppose this is the life of a blogger; our lives are busy, and reading and writing posts are moved to the back burner. I have been doing quite a bit of reading though; I think when I'm keeping up with blogs I don't read as many books, and now that I'm picking up books again, I don't read and write many blogs. I hope to find a way to do both (AND go to work, keep my house clean and my family fed, and make sure everyone gets to where they need to be, not to mention keep in touch with my friends and family).

I love books, and summer is the time when I'm able to sit for longer stretches and read. I devour books during the summer. I've already begun my summer reading, and I've read three excellent books just in the last few weeks:

1. The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns, who is the President of World Vision, U.S. Stearns talks about how he went from being the CEO of Lenox--you know, the one that makes expensive fine china and crystal--to heading a major Christian relief organization. He talks about how most Christians, even churchgoing ones, tend to look the other way when it comes to the poor. We see news stories about people suffering, and feel sadness and maybe even are moved to send a check; but then we turn to the sports section or flip the channel and forget about them. Once a friend of his took all 66 books of the Protestant Bible and cut out all of the passages that referred to helping the poor and the suffering. There was almost nothing left, just tatters. He points out that God calls all Christians to live the WHOLE Gospel: going to church and witnessing to others is all good, but we must not forget the poor, the sick, the oppressed, the orphaned. He gives eye-opening accounts of the suffering he has personally witnessed: children orphaned by AIDS, people dying from a lack of clean water, families displaced by war, politics, and even genocide. The statistics are staggering: every day 26,500 children die because of their poverty. Because so many people worldwide cannot get food, clean water, and medical care for their children, it's as if 100 commercial jets full of children crashed every day. Reading this book will inspire you to want to act on behalf of all suffering people. You can read more about The Hole in Our Gospel, World Vision, and get suggestions on how to help others here.

*Catholic's Note: Mr. Stearns was raised Catholic, but because his parent's weren't strong in their faith, he drifted away from the Church. He had turned away from God completely, but when he met his future wife, a devout Baptist, his life began to change, and he eventually gave his life to Christ. Wouldn't it be amazing if he came back into the fullness of the Catholic faith? :)

One of World Vision's missions is to combat AIDS in Africa. This is an evangelical Christian organization, not a Catholic one; while they do not promote abortions (I always check this out when I'm looking for humanitarian organizations to support), they do stress an "ABC" approach to AIDS prevention: Abstinence before marriage; Be faithful in marriage; Condoms if you must. Something to keep in mind if you are Catholic and are opposed to condom use. (World Vision does many other things, too, which would not compromise anyone's Catholic moral view; including drilling deep-water wells for the driest regions on Earth, providing farm animals so families and viliages can have sources of food--kind of like what Heifer International does--and allows families to "sponsor" a child by providing funds for his education, as well as his basic needs.)

2. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This is a novel which takes place in 1946, just after WWII. It is written entirely in letters, mostly between the main character, Juliet Ashton, a writer living in London, and her friends and acquaintances. When a coincidence causes her to begin corresponding to residents of the island of Guernsey in the English Channel, she begins to develop friendships that she never would have imagined having. Slowly through the letters we begin to learn of the oppression the people experienced when Nazi Germany occupied the Channel Islands for five years, in hopes of eventually conquering the rest of Britain. Juliet eventually makes her way to Guernsey for the purpose of talking face-to-face with her new friends, and eventually writing a book about their ordeals. It's a beautiful story, and one I would highly recommend, and would be a great book club pick.

3. The Lambi's Call by Tom Fame. Tom is a physician in Salem, Virginia, and a member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church. His parish participates in a twinning program (American churches developing relationships with communities in poor countries) in Haiti, and he has traveled many times to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and gotten to know its people and culture. His parish helped build schools for the children of St. Gabriel's parish in Lascahobas, Haiti, and a clean-water project is under way. This is a moving account of Tom's own journey of faith through his relationships with the people of Haiti. You can read more about Our Lady of Perpetual Help's Haiti project here; there is a link to a summary of The Lambi's Call, as well as an online order form. Proceeds for the book help pay the salaries of the teachers in Haiti.

I've just started Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I'll let you know my opinion of this one in a future blog (I hope).

My little garden is still growing; my bean plants are coming up, and some of my tomato plants look pretty good. A friend gave me a cucumber plant the other day, and I'm thinking of uprooting my less-than-healthy tomatoes in my biggest pot and replacing them with the single cucumber plant. Or maybe I'll just buy another great big pot.

I've now spent more than two hours on this blog post. I hope I can read some more of my current book before I drop off to sleep.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Mother's Praise

I have many, many things to be thankful for this week!

1. Praise God for my wonderful husband and three amazing boys. They've made this Mother's Day special!

2. Praise God for my parents, who can always make me smile from two hundred miles away.

3. Praise God for the best in-laws a girl can have!

4. Praise God for the beautiful weather, and for the good health that helps us to enjoy it.

5. Praise God for my children's teachers, past and present. You've helped shape them into the people they are today, and they will carry the lessons you have taught them all through their lives.

6. Praise God that my little garden is growing--we have lettuce, and we might be eating home-grown peas soon, and tomatoes later this summer!

7. Praise God for this little secret: My brother has a girlfriend! Shhhh... I hope I'll get to meet her soon.

8. Praise God for our parish priests. Thanks for all your hard work; our boys look up to you!

Happy Mother's Day to all!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Solving a Food Allergy Dilemma

When my youngest son was six months old, we found out he suffered from multiple food allergies. This would explain his extreme case of cradle cap, which developed into horrible eczema. When we started giving him milk-based formula, it got much worse. When we finally had him tested, he showed a strong sensitivity to dairy products. He is also allergic to eggs, nuts, and peanuts; as well as very mild allergies to shellfish and soy. Which means it's OK for him to eat crabs in the summer, as long as it's not too many; and since just about everything you buy in the grocery store contains soy, that's not a problem either. (We just don't give him straight soy milk to drink, for example; or at least very rarely.)

Over the years I've learned to prepare foods for the family that he can eat, and when I do cook something with eggs or anything else he's allergic to, I make sure there's an alternative for him to eat. (Now that I'm getting fresh local organic eggs from the farmer's market again, we have omelets for dinner at least every other week.) So when we were making plans for his first communion party last weekend, I decided to make a cake that everyone would enjoy, and that he could also eat.

I happened to find this recipe online a few years ago when I was planning a birthday party for him. Everyone raved and said it was delicious! It's very hard to find a milk- and egg-free cake that actually tastes good, but thanks to, this is no longer a problem. I usually double or triple the recipe, and the cake is easy to work with if you want to cut it into shapes, because it isn't crumbly.

Milk-Free, Egg-Free Cake with Vanilla Frosting
4 Tbsp. Margarine
1/3 c. sugar
1 cup soy milk (I use Better Than Milk soy powder and water)
1 tsp. vanilla*
1 very ripe banana, mashed*
1 1/2 cups wheat flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (fully preheated before baking). Cream margarine and sugar. Add soy milk, vanilla, and banana.*

In a separate large mixing bowl mix together all the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients--mix quickly, but thoroughly. Spread evenly into greased and floured 8 x 8 baking pan or cupcake pan (with liners). Bake in 400 degree oven for approx. 25 minutes (turn pan around halfway through baking). Cool, frost, eat, or freeze. This recipe freezes very well.

*The recipe calls for 1 tsp vanilla OR 1 ripe banana OR 1/2 c. carrot and 1/2 c. zucchini, finely shredded. I've always used vanilla AND banana.

Vanilla icing

1 lb. confectioner's sugar
1/2 lbs. margarine
1 tsp. vanilla, or less to taste
2-3 T. soy milk (a bit more if needed)

Cream margarine and sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla. Add just enough soymilk to make spread-able. Spread on COOLED cake/cupcakes.

I've made the frosting before, but this time around I just bought some. It's pretty easy to find pre-made icing without any milk.

Here's how it turned out! (As you can see, I will never make a career out of my cake decorating skills, but it's fun anyhow.)

I saw this cake on EWTN, believe it or not. I tripled the recipe, put the batter into three rectangular loaf pans, and placed two of them end to end. I cut the third one in half, and placed the two pieces on either side to make the cross.

I used the same recipe for a birthday cake when we had a Pokemon theme:

This one is a no-brainer; just double the recipe and make it in two round cake pans. (Come to think of it, I think I might have used the homemade frosting for this cake. Much better than store-bought.)

I also have made a wizard hat for a Harry Potter party by baking the cake in a 9 x 13 pan, and cutting a triangle with the bottom part of the triangle as the short side of the cake. I used the other two pieces to make the bottom part of the hat. It turned out pretty cute; unfortunately I can't seem to find a picture of it.

Speaking of zucchini and carrots, I have a great bread that I adapted from a couple of recipes from my favorite Southern Living cookbook; Allergy Boy loves it, and he's the pickiest eater in our family. I haven't made it in a long time; once zucchinis are in season, I'll make it again and post the recipe here. It's delicious.

Happy Baking!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Random Thoughts #2: Celebrations, Praises, and Good Books

1. A Day of Celebration Our youngest son celebrated his first communion on Saturday. We are so proud of him! These past two weeks have been extremely busy, and I've put blogging on a back burner (although, I have been reading some, and I keep adding more. I need to update my blog list soon...) Between our school's yard sale for Pennies for Peace, in which we raised over $200, and then First Communion, I'm finally getting around to writing again. I must say, too, that we are blessed to have so many friends and family members who share our happiness for our son. and the kids pushed each other on the tire swing. Right after they ate. No one got sick, thank goodness.

2. A Fabulous Book Do you like Jane Eyre, or Wuthering Heights? Check out The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield. It tells the story of a young writer who becomes the reluctant biographer for Miss Vida Winter, the most popular author in Great Britain. As the old novelist tells young Margaret her bizarre life story, Margaret becomes more and more fascinated by it, and finds herself mingling her own past with that of Miss Winter's. The book contains quite a few irreverent themes--incest, rape, murder, suicide; plus a little bit of spookiness, but only a smattering of profanity. (Come to think of it, doesn't the Bible have most of these things, too?) Once I started reading this I could hardly put it down. I am trying to read a mixture of spiritual books and fiction, so this was my first post-Lent juicy novel.

3. Praise! Okay, I'm so behind I decided to put this week's Praise post here. Praise God for all this rain we're having here--it's no fun, but it will help my garden grow. Praise God for a supportive family, Protestants who celebrate with us in our Catholic spiritual growth. Praise God for the catechists in our parish who have helped our children grow in the faith. Praise God for my fifth grade CCD students and their families; by teaching them I'm learning, too! Praise God for children who show a love and talent for music. I hope they stick with it longer than I did. Praise God for my husband, who finds the time and energy to spend with me and the boys no matter how busy he is at work. I am so blessed to have found him.
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