Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Art for Lent

image of The Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew
We homeschoolers are studying the paintings in Jesus of Nazareth:  A Life of Christ Through Pictures.  For these several weeks we're soaking in the artistic and religious beauty.

All the paintings in the book are owned by the National Gallery of Art, so to finish up we'll take a trip downtown to see them in person.  They're not all on display, but I am able to search online to find out which pictures are up and (this is key!) which rooms they're in.  I'll map out our visit so we can maximize enjoyment without exhausting attention spans.

I did this project years ago with an earlier batch of students, so I know it will be meaningful and fun.  A museum visit makes a great field trip for the whole family (maybe Easter break for us) or a group of friends.  We'll see other works, too, but I prefer having a focus for our outing.

About the book:  my county library has only four copies left (many more years ago), so I bought a used one in very good condition for a great price from Amazon.  If you want to try this, it's not too late to get started!

About the gallery:  If you're interested in my chart of paintings currently on view at the NGA, send me an email and I'll get it to you once I've completed it.  My address is LRice31 trash at cox dot net (take out the trash).  In addition to location, the nga website also has a few paragraphs of information about most of the pictures.  I'm adding the commentary to my document, but you may be interested in looking it up for yourself in the meantime.

About picture study:  Here's a quick "how to" from Simply Charlottle Mason

Picture Study

Art appreciation was one part of Charlotte’s “spreading the feast” before her students; and her method, as always, was gentle and inviting. Display a picture and mention the artist who created it. Have children look at the picture until they can see it clearly in their minds’ eye. When all children are ready, turn the picture over or close the book and ask them to describe the picture. When their narration is finished, display the picture again and notice together any new aspects. Summarize any accompanying information if desired, but be careful not to interfere with each child’s forming his own relationship with the artist’s work. This study is not a lesson in art criticism. Display the picture in a prominent location in your home so children can look at it throughout the week.

Continue to study works by the same artist for several weeks until the children become familiar with that artist’s style. If possible, read a short biography about that artist sometime during your study of his or her work.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Restaurant Rave

Because their birthdays are close together, my sister- and brother-in-law traditionally receive dinner out (for 4) as a gift from Len and me. (Yes, my children, Grammar-Mom says "Len and me" here where one could substitue "us."  But I digress . . .) 

They usually reciprocate by taking us out to celebrate our own close-together birthdays.  We're almost guaranteed to have two quiet evenings each year for the four of us to connect.

Tonight we commemorated the February birthdays.  We had intended to visit a Cajun restaurant recommended by the newspaper, but Len had misgivings after calling to try to make a reservation.  Then one of our parish priests mentioned and praised a new Vietnamese place.  It's called Pho Aura, and it is fantastic!
We shared appetizer rolls, pho (soup), crispy noodles, lemon grass chicken, shaking beef, and fried bananas with tropical ice cream.  Everything was delicious!  The meats were tender, the vegetables fresh, and the sauces flavorful but not overpowering.  Thuan, the owner, was friendly and helpful, guiding us through the menu.  (It probably didn't hurt that we mentioned Fr. S!)  And Pho Aura's prices are great, especially considering the high quality of the food.

This is definitely a restaurant worth visiting.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Yes to Life

I had my planner out as I signed up to pray with my family outside an abortion facility in support of 40 Days for Life.  I needed to pick a "good" time--avoiding traffic, a violin lesson, club meetings, etc.  Logistics was my focus. 

So it was sweet to realize this morning that we would be praying for life on the Feast of the Annunciation, the commemoration of Mary's great "Yes."

Annunciation by Maurice Denis, 1912

Our parish is responsible for two (long) days of vigil, so our family showed up for an hour.  This year we're at a new location, along a highly visible, busy road (three lanes each way!).

I've been involved in pro-life activities over the years, but had never prayed publicly in front of a facility until today.  Standing there in a small group with a few signs felt so different from participating in the March for Life; it felt more public, more outspoken.  That doesn't make sense except that it was more ME out there than US (hundreds of thousands) together.  We clustered for a few minutes, then faced the traffic and began praying our (20 decade!) rosary.

Those first minutes of facing the cars were intense.  I felt that I was truly reaching out, praying for others, hoping a heart might change.  The March is upbeat and hopeful and prayerful, but almost everyone downtown is pro-life that day.  This morning a wide variety of attitudes drove by.

We received some positive horn-toots, one negative yell, and one long honk/thumbs down.  All received friendly waves in response.  :-) 

(Much later) I think I'll always remember the cold (low 30's!), the bright sunshine, the noise of the cars, and the rhythm of the rosary recited with my family.  And the emotions--peace, and near tears of hope (for changed hearts) and gratitude (for gifts of encouragement from passers-by).  It was an amazing experience, a special way to take part in the Annunciation.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Catchy title?  Not so much.  Oh, well.

Last weekend, when I realized our 25th wedding anniversary was nine days away, "Novena!" jumped into my mind.

I searched online for a novena of gratitude, but found nothing.  I thought about praying (in thanksgiving) to the patron saint of happy marrianges.  I found St. Valentine, but no novena, and he is so romanticized that he probably wouldn't have been my top choice anyway.  Len looked over my shoulder at the list and suggested a novena to the Holy Family.  Great idea!  I added a beginning line of thanks for our sacramental marriage.
Holy Family Church
All the novenas I've seen include a petition.  My inspiration was purely gratitude, but rather than rework the given prayer, Len and I have been praying for our children (6) and godchildren (11!).  They are on my mind and heart daily, anyway.

We've almost finished (Tuesday is our big day!), but I must tell you about something beautiful.  We almost bailed on this novena on the 2nd day.  I came to bed much later than my sensible husband and felt rude demanding he turn the light back on to read and pray with me.  I knew I would be disappointed, though, and so (not very graciously, I must admit) insisted we stick with it.

A day later I received a call from someone dear requesting prayers for one of our godchildren, especially over this weekend and Monday (the final days of our novena)!  I'm so grateful we didn't quit!  Not only are we praying for this child on the specially requested days, but also for the week leading up to them.

I often don't follow through with multiple days of prayer (novenas, O Antipons, Jesus tree, etc.), so this episode is one I'll remember to encourage me to "stick with it" in the future.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Small Successes


"It’s important for moms to recognize that all the small successes in our days can add up to one big triumph. So on Thursday of each week, we do exactly that."

I faithfully clean clothes and get food on the table, but there are many days when I believe that's all I've accomplished.  Our academic day more "un-" than "schooling?"  Struggling (in vain, as it humiliatingly turned out) to stay awake through Bible study?  A bare (after a week) Lenten Jesus tree?

Ah, well.  Sometimes it's better to focus on the positive.  In that spirit, here are some successes:
  1. I made our crown of thorns the day after Lent began.  We hung our purple ribbons today.  Most of our other decorations are up, too.
  2. So far I've kept my Lenten resolutions.
  3. I made a tasty Irish dinner tonight, BEFORE Len and the boys drove off to their Catholic boys' club meeting.  Bonus:  I posted the recipe!
If you want more inspiration to look on the bright side, check out Faith and Family Live.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pi Pics

Because you asked (okay, not really), here are some Pi Day results:
The flavor of Joe's brown sugar chess pie reminded me of pecan pie filling without being as sweet.  The texture was different, too--not gooey, but semi-solid.  It was thickened with corn flour (very fine), which added a subtle graininess.  Joseph loved this dessert.  Although fine for what it was, it's not making my favorites list . . .
Aren't the cherry pies adorable?  Rebecca rolled and shaped two of the crusts.
I had some extra filling so I made a mini cobbler, too.  That was easy since I keep homemade biscuit mix on hand.  I added a little cornmeal and sugar, then buttermilk to make a loose dough/batter.  Sprinkled it with coarse sugar, and voila!  "Winging it" while baking isn't usually a recipe for success, so it was fun to play.  The photo is from before baking; the after shot was too fuzzy even by my standards!
And since you're here already, enjoy a shot (pre-baked) of the cheddar/green onion (with a tiny bit of parsley) biscuits from Sunday's supper.  Again with the biscuit mix . . . just added  sharp cheddar, etc. and then buttermilk until it was the right consistency.  Easy!
BTW, I use this recipe inspired by Leila, mostly for biscuits and pancakes.  My changes:  6 cups white, 5 cups white whole wheat flour, 1 1/2 tsp (vs. Tbsp) salt, 6 Tbsp (vs. 1) sugar.  For pancakes I use 1 egg per cup of mix (vs. 1 egg per 2 cups).

Monday, March 14, 2011

Happy Pi Day from the Surprisingly Reluctant Baker

Today (3.14.11) is Pi Day.  Apparently it is traditional to celebrate with pie . . .

Joseph mentioned this a few days ago, remarking that his CHESS (Centreville Homeschool Enrichment Support Services) science teacher had suggested her students bring pie to class.

Great.  I was less than enthusiastic (already a lot of baking/cooking going on this weekend).  Joe doesn't like fruit pies (except for our Summer Blueberry), and I would need something non-messy for sharing in class anyway.  Pumpkin?  Eh.  Pecan?  Nah.

Then inspiration struck.  I remembered that there is a category of classic Southern dessert called chess pie!  Get it?  CHESS class/chess pie?  I found a recipe for a brown sugar version that should work in tiny slices.

David is home for spring break, so I asked my math major (currently sporting a double minor in computer science and physics) what kind of pie HE wanted.  Answer--cherry.

Great.  I don't make cherry pie any more.  It's too messy.  You take out one slice, and all the filling gushes all over.  And filling thick enough to stay in place would be pasty or gummy.  Cobbler is now my cherry dessert of choice.

Anyway . . . I decided to make David a personal pie, with cobbler for the rest of us.  Later realizing that was a silly amount of extra work, I divided the crust dough into multiple pieces.  Today I'll be rolling it out to fill custard cups.  We'll all have individual pies, so there's no more worry about errant filling.  I need to tiptoe down to the big freezer (in David's room) now to gather the cherries to thaw.

THEN, last night at dinner (I'd been cooking all day--chess pie, pie crust, beef stew, cheese biscuits, pound cake) the subject of Pi Day came up, and there was Daniel, who had been gone all day.  Did he need pie for school, too?  He didn't push, but was it fair to send one with only Joe?

Great!  I had to leave soon, to teach NFP, and would be gone from 6:30-10:00!!  But the wheels started spinning, and I found a recipe for a pie that used a crumb crust required no baking.  No way was I going to make another traditional crust!  So Joe and I quickly prepped the crust, which needed to chill.  After class (we actually got home around 9:30) I sent David out for the second block of cream cheese (the only thing not already in my house for creating three different pies plus the biscuits and citrus cake--bake much?) and stirred up the filling.

In the end I had fun brainstorming and baking.  I'm a little nervous about sending out two desserts I've never made before.  Hopefully they're either delicious or middle schoolers and 10th grade boys don't have the most discerning palates . . .  ;-)  Our family's first celebration of Pi Day may not, after all, be our last.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Today we celebrated the ribbon cutting ceremony at the clinic's new location.  The mayor and chairman of the Board of Supervisors were both in attendance, and seemed to enjoy their tour of the building.

I don't have a picture of the actual severing, as I was part of the group of onlookers.

In other news, our 25th wedding anniversary is coming up this month!  Sometime between last year and now, I passed the married-for-half-of-my-life mark.  How's that for wonderful?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Small Successes

"It’s important for moms to recognize that all the small successes in our days can add up to one big triumph. So on Thursday of each week, we do exactly that."

Looking back, I can find some satisfying accomplishments:
  1. I tidied up the pantry.  Not the whole thing, of course, but the floor (yes, I have a nice, big pantry!) is visible and some important shelves have been reorganized.
  2. The girls and I are ahead of our plans in science!  Even better, our latest Netflix science movie has arrived--great viewing, with just a bit of parental commentary needed when the narration gets overly Darwinian.
  3. Yesterday was a busy day with lots of driving and time out of the house--not the most comfortable for this confirmed homebody.  Even though I'm doing what needs to be done, I often look back on a day like that (especially if I'm still preparing dinner at 7:00) and wonder if I accomplished anything significant.  At least last night I could glory in the fact that I had managed to get to the post office and ship three items, including a box to Greece.  Hurrah!
Look back and find out what you've succeeded at this week.  Be inspired by other moms here.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What Are You Doing for Lent?

Lent is starting so late this year (next Wednesday, March 9) that I haven't spent much time thinking about what I'm going to offer (or offer up) in an attempt to grow spiritually.

A few ideas are percolating (limiting blog reading, fasting--but not enough to make me nuts, spending time In Conversation With God ); I may or may not let you know what I decide.  My goal for today was to get you thinking about Lent if you have procrastinated, too.