What We’re Doing for Lent

After my last post about my biggest goal for Lent this year, I thought it would be good and fun to share with you what we’re planning on doing as a family this Lent.

Over the years, I’ve found that I really need to challenge myself to commit to both physical and temporal sacrifices during Lent. I can remember after my earliest practicing Lents when I gave up Coke (it’s a big deal for a girl from the South,) when I decided that it would be much better for my soul to give up my time, which I am oh so stingy about. I spent a few years trying out things like the Liturgy of the Hours, Adoration, and reading the Bible daily.

But eventually, I realized that I’d fallen into a trap with that too. It was too easy. Because I am a great big wimp when it comes to physical difficulties. And I need to learn to master physical discipline if I’m ever gettin’ to Heaven. Seriously. So now, I try to make sure that I have a good mix of both things each year. Here’s what we’ve come up with so far this year:

Let's do this.

Let’s do this.

The Physical

Partial Abstinence

For the last three years, my husband and I have followed the traditional practice of partial abstinence during Lent. Partial abstinence means only allowing one meal a day that contains meat (except on Fridays, which have none at all.) We prayerfully considered doing no-meat at all during Lent, but ultimately decided that it wasn’t beneficial for our health at this point, and frankly: it’s a little too much to follow successfully. Partial abstinence for us is hard. Although our regular breakfasts don’t include meat, our lunches almost always do. And finding ways to cook lots of vegetarian/pescatarian leftovers or suffer the consequences of choosing between PB&J and tuna sandwiches every day is very penitential for us. It’s very hard, but it’s been so good for us! It was after practicing this for the first time that I felt really, truly joyous all through Easter (instead of just on Easter Sunday.)

Reducing Sweet Snacks

I can’t really cut out snacks completely due to my medications and health problems, but I can choose to have apple slices or crackers instead of that cookie someone brought into work. We don’t eat a lot of sweets around our house to start with (as evidenced by the stacks of old Christmas, Halloween, and Valentine’s candies on top of our pantry–from last year,) so giving them up isn’t a very big deal. We actually have been instead making it a point to add a special dessert on days when a solemnity falls during Lent (oh, how I love those days!) Just to make the distinction feel a bit more special.

Giving up Liquor & Cocktails

Oh Manhattans, how I love thee. (But seriously, wikipedia images… who wants to put Crown in a Manhattan?)

If you knew us, you’d know that this is kind of a big deal. Okay, now we sound like drunks. I promise we’re not. We’re just a family that loves the fun of a yummy, well-mixed cocktail over a glass of wine or a beer. We still enjoy wine and beer, but isn’t a Martini just so much better most nights? Or a Manhattan? My husband has gotten pretty good at mixing all kinds of cocktails over the last few years and they’re really our go-to treat. So we’re giving them up. Waaay harder than giving up candy, let me tell you.

The Temporal

Keeping Television Time to about 1 Hour a Day on Weekdays

We have a bad habit. When we both finally make it home on weeknights, as soon as dinner’s on the table, we’re exhausted. Done and ready to snuggle. So we watch one of our favorite TV shows on DVD. We don’t have cable or internet powerful enough to watch hulu on, so we own everything we enjoy watching together on DVD. While this is great, we often don’t keep it to one show (or a long show and a short one,) because we’re just beat and would rather keep watching and eat away at the little time that we have each evening. So we’re keeping it to one hour of TV time together on weekday evenings so we’ll have time to do some of these other fun things:

Reading the Gospels Together Daily

We’ve been wanting to do this for a while. The plan is to just start at Mark and work until we’re done with John (we’ll decide what happens after that when we get there.) We decided against a set amount of reading per night because every night is different in this house. Some nights we might get through a few chapters, but half a chapter might be all we can do on some nights when we work late.

Reading “My Catholic Faith” Together Weekly

I’ve told you about My Catholic Faith, right? If not, seriously, take my advice and go buy yourself a copy of it now from wherever you can get it. It is THE best family Catechism I have ever seen. And I run a Catholic bookstore, remember? Everything is so well organized and clearly written–no fuzzy gray areas for those without theology degrees. Bishop Marrow gives simply the best clarifications and elaborations on Church teachings you can find. Also, the pictures are beautiful and so, so informative. Just go get yourself one, dig? (P.S. I hear that if you get it through that link, they might throw me a couple of pennies. Which is cool. But no pressure.)

Best. Catechism. Ever.

Best. Catechism. Ever.

We’ll be reading at least one lesson per week during Lent, in the hopes that the habit sticks after the season is over. We’re deciding to keep the night flexible because when we’ve tried this previously, all it took was one wacky schedule change (which happens all the time) to throw off the whole thing. This way, maybe once a week will turn into twice a week.

In addition to these hard and fast commitments that we’re challenging ourselves with, we’re also planning to look for little opportunities throughout the day to offer extra little sacrifices. You know, the quiet little gestures of sacrifice for others that we ought to be doing anyway, or little extra penances like standing when we’d rather sit, doing our least favorite chores first, or doing things the hard way when the easy way is still an option. (Or big things like actually going to the gym.) This post has some wonderful ideas for just these kinds of sacrifices. I might even make some St. Therese Sacrifice Beads to help us along. I’ll let you know.

I’m so grateful to have had the season of Septuagesima again this year to help us prayerfully prepare for Lent’s coming. We were reminded with the readings and homilies in Mass that Lent was soon approaching and had the opportunity to do a “trail run” of some of our planned sacrifices to see if they’d really bear good fruit in practice. Isn’t that great?

There’s what we’re aiming for this Lent, what about you?

Cheater’s Michaelmas

I know, it’s still a day early for Michaelmas. But tomorrow we have plans that we can’t get out of that involve not being home all day, so we’re celebrating today and hopefully our dear St. Michael won’t mind much. On the up side, since I’m posting a day in advance, you can totally steal my oh-so-complicated and original feast day ideas. 😉 [Edit: It actually took me so long to get this written up that now it really is Michaelmas. Whoops!] Confession: I came up with these very cheesy ideas, did the shopping, and THEN found some super delicious-sounding and legitimately traditional recipes online that I simply don’t have the time, money, or energy to produce. So feel free to call this a “Poor Man’s Michaelmas Dinner.”

Firstly, a little history (because learnin’ is important):

Fierce.

Fierce.

St. Michael the Archangel is the angel who fought satan during the great battle. And won, of course. My favorite tidbit about him actually stems from the fact that he was so named because when the evil one, who was the highest of the Seraphim (thusly named Lucifer, “light bearer”–think the light of God) heard that God the Father intended to have a Son who would be human, a being far beneath the angels in honor and glory, he became enraged. He was so offended because, as far as he was concerned, he was the closest to God and would never be so foolish. He started to believe that he was not just very close to God, but rather like God. Which of course he wasn’t (and isn’t) remotely. “Michael” means “Who is like God?” Please note the question mark. Even though ancient Hebrew has no punctuation, it’s important to establish that it was a (rhetorical) question and not, as it’s often mis-translated, “he who is like God.” Because obviously, no one is. That’s the point, yes? In short, that question became the battle cry of Michael and the other good angels during the battle.

Good story, right? What’s that, you already heard it? Only someone else told it better? Well aren’t we catechized. Good job. 😉 In that case, here’s some other fun facts about the angels that you might not already know.

-You know how every person is assigned a guardian angel when he or she is born? Well, each family is also assigned one during the Sacrament of Marriage. Boo-ya. (Good thing too, ’cause I need all the extra angels looking out for me that I can get.)

-Devotion to the angels is supposed to be a mark of predestination. Which makes me feel like I should start asking for their help a little more often.

-The nine choirs of angels are divided into three hierarchies which are (highest to lowest): Seraphim, Cherubim, & Thrones, Powers, Principalities, & Dominions, Virtues, Archangels, & Angels. Although apparently it’s more traditional to list them in ascending order. But I thought this would make more sense.

-Michael shares a feast day on the new calendar with the other two canonically-mentioned Archangels, Raphael & Gabriel.

* All fun facts from the totally awesome book, St. Michael and the Angels. You should get it.

Beautiful image of the choirs, yes? Can you guess who that is in the middle?

Secondly, here’s some fun recommendations of my favorite angel items from the store. You should get them.

Cold-Cast Bronze Statue. This company has the most detailed statues I've ever seen.

Cold-Cast Bronze Statue. This company has the most detailed statues I’ve ever seen.

An amazing book put out by TAN Book Publishers. It's basically a 30-day devotional to teach you all kinds of traditions about the angels.

An amazing book put out by TAN Book Publishers. It’s basically a 30-day devotional to teach you all kinds of traditions about the angels.

OK, we’re finally on to the food part. Here’s how we celebrated our early Michaelmas this year (in truly cheesy literal cheater’s fashion):

Yummy, yummy, in our tummies.

Yummy, yummy, in our tummies.

Angelhair Pasta with three colors of peppers to represent Michael, Raphael, & Gabriel. It was crazy good. Initially, I’d intended to make my own white parmesan sauce for this, but it was late and I’ll confess I cheated. I got to try out one of those new recipe starters. It was great. And went very well with the wine. Also, it was way less expensive than roasted goose, which is apparently the real traditional Michaelmas dinner.

Drool.

Drool.

For dinner we had–of course–angel food cake! And since my husband informs me that apples are totally in season right now, I cooked some apples in a bit of butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. That’s a scoop of frozen coolwhip, by the way. But it tastes like ice cream. And, yes, it was even more delicious than it looks. Especially after we caved and drizzled the caramel sauce on top.

Happy Michaelmas!

St. Monica, Motherhood, & Absolute Hope

Before I catch you up on leg three of our big Summer road trip (which admittedly is not nearly as exciting as the first two legs,) I thought we’d take a little break and I’d just throw out a little thanks to Monica who accidentally (must have been an accident, right?) got me the most views in a single day that I’ve ever had so far. Who knew bragging about what great kids catechesis crafts stuff she comes up with would pay off for me too?

I promise you that it’s merely a coincidence that I’m bragging about my own new favorite Monica in a post about her great namesake.

We’re selling this new book on St. Monica in our store right now. It looks wonderful and this image just captures her so well.

I’ve always felt so drawn to the beautiful St. Monica whose steadfastness, persistence, and simple example of Christian womanhood have never failed to inspire me when I’m feeling my lowest. St. Monica is someone that I strive to be, especially in the workplace each day.

I run a Catholic bookstore, which is simultaneously one of the most fun, exciting jobs I can imagine, and one of the most emotionally and spiritually difficult. As a store, we exist not just so people can swing by and pick up a miraculous medal or baptism gift (although of course they can,) but also as a spiritual soft place to land, a support network, a counselling center, a cheerleader camp, a library and a set of shoulders to cry on. We see people in our little store every day that are suffering and surviving through tragedies and losses far more intense than I can even imagine experiencing. We also see people brimming over, exploding with joy in their happiest moments. It’s an emotional roller coaster every day as we fill the moments between heartbreak and celebration with stocking the shelves, placing orders, restarting the CD player, and checking email.

My job, really, is to help people get to Heaven, however I can. That’s what every task of my day from answering the phone to holding a sobbing customer who recently lost her child in my arms, to selecting the right books, to teaching a new friend how to pray the Rosary is all about. It’s a beautiful and wonderful thing to be blessed with such a vocation. It’s a vocation to do a million little things a day that seem like logistics, but are really acts of great love. It’s a vocation to comfort, to mourn alongside others, and to acknowledge their pain by sharing in it in some small way. It’s a vocation to put a copy of My Catholic Faith into someone’s hands who doesn’t know they need it yet (Ask your local Catholic bookstore for that one please!) It’s a vocation to pray fervently that every person who walks into the store making jokes about being a cafeteria Catholic (I was guilty of this for years) will some day see the light and bask in the fullness of Truth.

It’s a lot like motherhood. I’ve mentioned before that we haven’t been blessed yet with children, but I like to think that Our Lord has given me this job as a way of both practicing for future motherhood and as a way to actively live my vocation as a mother in a way that models His own mother and St. Monica. He challenges me every day to dig deeper, no matter how exhausted I am, to bring consolation, or insight, or at least a smile to the face of every person that He sends through that door. He’s given me a way to care for others and to learn how to love more generously.

Just like the motherhood that I see exampled in all of the women I’ve met online and whose blogs I read, I am called to example love, patience, steadfastness, humility, and simplicity in the same way that St. Monica did each day of her life. St. Monica exemplifies a motherhood spent waiting in absolute hope. I pray that I can learn from her example not only as a mothering caretaker of souls at work, but as a woman who is waiting to fulfill her vocation to love as a mother of children. I pray that I can learn to patiently wait for God’s perfect timing and perfect plan for our lives, all the while remaining steadfast in an absolute and trusting hope. I pray that I might remember always that my every action, no matter how quiet or simple, has the potential to draw me and others closer to Our Lord.

Oatmeal bread is simple, strong, and solid, like St. Monica.

Oatmeal bread is simple, strong, and solid, like St. Monica.

I’ll tell you about our adventures in bread-making soon, but I wanted to share a picture of this oatmeal bread that we made using a recipe from my new favorite cookbook. Baking bread is an excellent way to honor St. Monica on her feast day because very little that you can do in the kitchen requires more carefulness and patience.

St. Monica, ora pro nobis. Please make us good waiters.

St. Charbel & Living the Liturgical Calendar

So I may not have mentioned in my earlier introductory ramblings, but our family has really been trying to immerse ourselves in the liturgical calendar in order to feel better connected to our faith. That means that we do what we can to celebrate our favorite saints’ feast days in big or little ways (depending on who the saint is and how far in advance we remember,) do our best to observe things like ember days, and just generally try to unite our days intentionally to the rest of the Church.

Sometimes we observe a feast day with a whole big meal like Haley does (check out her great ideas for Sts. Anne & Joachim’s feast day,) but often we just throw together a little something to acknowledge its passing. Honestly, we tend to remember the day-of or the day before at best, so we do what we can. Some kinds of living our liturgical calendar are harder than others (I’ll tell you all about ember days later,) but they’re all so fulfilling to attempt.

St. Charbel!

This looks EXACTLY like the picture of St. Charbel that a customer at the store gave us. It hangs right next to my desk every day and in person the details are so lifelike.

Today’s feast is for St. Charbel, who is, to my knowledge, the first Lebanese saint to be canonized. Neither of us are Lebanese, but we have a few Lebanese friends (including the one who gave us a copy of the above lovely icon for the store.) Upon the recommendation of these friends, we picked the yummiest (and most readily available) Lebanese food we know: Hummus!

Store bought hummus

Store-bought hummus. I can’t even take credit for the picture!

I’d like to say that I had the forethought and energy to make my own batch of hummus to bring into work with me today, but that just didn’t happen. We JUST got back from vacationing with my husband’s family at the beach and both the fridge and pantry are completely empty. Let’s just say it wasn’t gonna happen today. However, one of my aforementioned Lebanese friends ran out to the store and picked out a few tubs of this brand, so you know it’s legit. The three of us at the store basically ate 2 1/2 tubs of this deliciousness and called it lunch. (Just so you don’t miss out on this mental image: my friend couldn’t find the pita chips or any regular pita bread that met my current weird dietary needs, so we wound up eating our hummus with Ruffles potato chips and Cheddar Harvest Sunchips. Yum, right?)

Just so you don’t feel like I’ve completely gypped you out of a real food post, I’m providing you with a recipe for it from my new favorite cookbook which hasn’t let me down yet. I’m leaving out a few of the ingredients to make it simpler (and just in case of copyright issues!) Sorry this has turned into lazy steal-it-from-the-internet night, but que sera, sera!

Yummy Simple Hummus

Ingredients:

1/4 cup tahini (I read somewhere that in a pinch you can sub peanut butter for this. I tried it and it was…ok. Lacking though.)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

_______

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic (app. 2 cloves)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon coriander

_______

1 15 oz can of garbanzo beans, rise and drain

The trick, it seems, is to add the ingredients into the food processor one group (divided by lines above) at a time, while processing for about a minute after adding each set of ingredients. That makes it SO much smoother and yummier. Putting the ingredients in in the order listed above works wonders and I highly recommend chilling it for as long as you can stand to wait to eat it (seriously, if you make it the hour that she recommends, you’re amazing.) Also, you can always add more garlic. 🙂

Let’s pretend I made this batch, ok? For the one-step-at-a-time idea, click the picture.

Happy Feast of St. Charbel!