Wednesday, April 28, 2010


It's that time of year.  "Spring cleaning" peeps its head out in the back of our minds, emerging from the cozy winter soil, as memory recalls warm sunny days in sun dresses.

I never liked cleaning when I was growing up.  I didn't really like cleaning when I was in college, either.  It was just a chore, something I had to do in order to get to do other things I wanted.  It wasn't until I got married, and had my "own" house to take care of, that I began to appreciate the virtue in good, honest housework.

I recently read an article in Body + Soul magazine (eh, I got a free subscription with some tea I bought online) all about a "fresh look" on spring cleaning.  [Unfortunately, I can't seem to link to it, so you will have to bear with my paraphrasing and re-hashing of the article.]  "The idea," the author states, "is that we should find meaning in ordinary tasks, because true clarity is fleeting enough--and when it's over, somebody still has to clean the crisper."  Ahh, doesn't that ring true with so many things I've learned over the years?

Momma used to tell me, when I emerged from some chore I had finished: "That didn't take long enough. You didn't do it right."  I was always quite appalled and indignant (especially when I had done [almost] everything she asked me to do), because "how would she know?" But, looking back, I realize that she was getting at the same idea as the article.  So much these days says "do it once, never do it again."  With many things it is possible to finish completely the first time, but not with most things in life.  Folded laundry will be worn and need to be washed. Clean dishes will be dirtied. Swept floors will be "dusted." Over and over again.  If repetition is weariness without end, life is exhausting (and if so, frankly, why bother?).  Instead, focus on the now, not on the "when it's finished."

So what's my point?  As a housewife, a philosopher's wife :) I know it's important to have a clean and happy home--one that welcomes not only guests and strangers, but also its more permanent residents.   [I'm not saying your home has to be spotless--taking care to make a "good, clean home" is different than a catalog-perfect "living" space.]  When one comes into a real home, it's apparent in the walls and the floors and the air. A Home is full of Love.

Because, folks, physical things have meaning!  It's not enough to tell your children you love them and pray for them (though those are infinitely important), you have to work out your love--in dirty diapers and banana-crusted floors and mud-stained clothes and temper tantrums (hopefully the kids').  It's not enough to get married and be madly in love with your spouse. Work out your unending Love for him in the unending pile of dishes that accumulate, or the unending cycles of laundry.

It's in such repetition that we, as humans, exist. Breathing and waking up and going to sleep are all repetitive. Seeing the sun rise and set each day is repetitive. Hearing your child(ren) laugh (again and again (at the same thing)) is repetitive. Why don't those things weary us?  In housework, too, we can find joy in the repetition.  In going back to the sink, for the third time today, I can find a moment's peace in the warm sudsy water, in the lemon scent of my soap, in the knowledge that we have enough food.  Make it a meditation. Pay attention to what you're doing.

See, housework and all those blissfully quotidian, repetitive tasks, are a kind of therapy, really. A perfect meditation. Doing the dishes is calming and relaxing for me (mostly--sometimes I'm just tired).  It's something I do on my own, so it gives me a window of time where I can think to myself.  Folding laundry is the same way. Repetitive, soothing, consistent.  I fold everyone of Taylor's t-shirts the same way.  I sort the socks and match them up.  I re-organize our sweater cubby so they don't fall out.  I put the clothes away and admire a clean room, all put together.

We should all revel in a little repetition--it's good for us :)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Birthday Cake with a Kick

Yesterday was Taylor's birthday.  One of his law friends also had her birthday yesterday and hosted a double-birthday party at her house.  Tacos were on the menu, but no one had specified anything about dessert.  So... I thought I'd use some of the strawberries we received in our vegetable share this week to spice up a layer cake.

But, speaking of spices, and thinking of tacos, I said to myself, "Why not give this sweet, chocolatey, coffee-y cake a hearty kick?"  So, to each cake I made, I added a nice dash of cayenne pepper.  It was just the thing.  Have you ever had a [South American Country] mocha latte?  It's along the same lines. A tiny bit of some sort of pepper is added to the chocolate and it gives the already-hot drink a delicious warmth to it.

Which, as it turns out, is fabulous with strawberries.

To keep the cake moist (thanks, Smitten Kitchen!), I mixed some (unsweetened) strawberry jam with a bit of water and a tsp of vanilla and brushed it on each layer before placing the strawberries.  It helped the berries stay on, too, which helped the whole cake stay together (a good thing since this cake had several blocks to be driven, on Boston roads, by my, um, enthusiastic husband (really, though, he was very gentle with the cake. Thanks, Love!)).

I even added a layer of strawberries to the tip-top of the cake, since I had extras, and proceeded to dollop the frosting on.  I used a basic (vegan) buttercream frosting and added about a tablespoon of finely ground coffee.  I decreased the sugar by half and added a bit more butter, whipping it up longer in the mixer, since I didn't want a super sweet frosting (I will eat the cake and leave the icing if it's too sweet!), and I figured the coffee would mellow out the sugar.

Looks kinda vanilla-bean-y, huh?
It was a big hit!  Everyone kept checking with me: "Is the cake supposed to taste like this?"  "Is there... some sort of.. pepper in this?"  I reassured them that I had indeed intended such a taste, and they told me it was great!  The birthday kids also really loved it, which was all a baker could want. I guess it made their night, in a way (I mean, really, a three-layer chocolate-cayenne-coffee-strawberry buttercream-coffee-frosting cake would make any night for me).

We had a good time at the party. Taylor made sangria (quite well, as a matter of fact--new party feature chez Black, methinks) and we had margaritas. The tacos were tasty and loaded with fixings. The company was in good cheer, despite the approach of doom (i.e., 1L finals), and we all enjoyed the chance to relax a bit. Hooray for good friends and fun parties and delicious food.  And praise the Lord for my wonderful quarter-of-a-century-old Husband :)  I love you about a guh-zillion (and a half).

Enjoy the pictures :)

Mo & Taylor's Birthday

Friday, April 23, 2010

Babies Don't Keep

I sometimes get rather inquisitive looks from friends (friends who know T and I don't have any kids (yet)) when I talk about all the baby things I make.  I mean, really? for someone who has zero kids--even nieces and nephews that live close to me--it may seem strange that I make all sorts of things for babies.

But I love them :) and I figure that, by the time T and I are blessed with children, we'll be pretty much set.

The real reason, though, that I tend to make so many things for babies is that I have so many friends and family who are having babies.. and need, well, baby things. And I like to encourage hands-on parenting!  See, the joy I gain--knowing that some sweet squishy baby is squirming in one of my carriers, or nursing contentedly under my nursing covers, or doing tummy time on my blanket, or having his face wiped with my burp rags--is life-giving.  This is something I can do now to welcome Life into my marriage.  And, as the nursery rhyme says, "babies don't keep." So, here's another baby thing I make:

Nursing Covers. 

Reversible, of course :)

with soft corners for dabbing up spilled milk

and a pocket to keep your nursing-related things in.

complete with matching bag

Contact me with your email address for pricing information. Enjoy the pictures.
Crafty Things

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Remember That Party...

we had for St. Thomas Sunday?  It was lots of fun :)  I have no proper excuse for not sharing with you before now.  I blame it on general "busy-ness."

But we had great fun!  I made the cakes the week we got back from CA and froze them (to make them easier to frost).  We had picked up the hams the Sunday before and they were happily thawing in my fridge.

On Saturday (a few weeks ago--St. Thomas Sunday is the week after Easter), I woke fairly early and began to make the Pascha bread.  I made two kinds--one with the traditional eggs and butter and (real) milk, and one "vegan" (@#$%$^ allergies!) so that I could enjoy some as well.  I'm happy to report that, while the vegan bread wasn't quite the same, it was still delicious and I was very happy with it. (I used this recipe (I think I halved or quartered it), because I am also allergic to wheat flour. (and FYI, you can get white spelt flour on, order two boxes, free shipping!))

Since I don't have any of the right sized pans to bake upright loaves, I braided my loaves of Pascha.  Next year I want to try to make the loaves more plump and less lanky.  They last a bit longer when stretched out, but I like the look of puffier loaves. I love the braiding, though.  I may never bake upright loaves, even if I do have the right pans. It's just so nice, so soothing to handle the slightly warm, soft, stretchy dough in my fingers. And I love to roll out the tiny strands for the cross on top.  

And this year I found a better way to finish the cross ends, with those little curly-cues (thanks to Kayleen's pictures).  I can't wait to live closer to more Byzantine families, where we can all get together to bake our Easter goodies together.  "It's more friendly with two [dozen]." :)

Vivian helped me with the cakes once the Pascha was done.  She made the lamb cake look fluffier than I've ever seen him, and the chocolate cake was simply perfect. Viv--you're totally hired ;)

As for the rest of the spread, in addition to the cakes I baked earlier in the week, we had mustard-glazed ham (oh yeah--that was good), Greek green beans (courtesy of Frank), chips and salsa, oodles of good cheese and crackers, Mediterranean pasta salad, mini-pasteries, and lots of butter and wine and beer.  All made better, of course, by great friends and fun conversation.

Oh, and we had jelly beans, too. That was awesome :)

So, enjoy the pictures! Would you like to come to our St. Thomas Sunday party next year? :)

St. Thomas Sunday

I'm Getting Better at This

I have now successfully completed my sixth mei tai.  I've got the process fairly streamlined and I have progressively had to rip out fewer and fewer seams. Baby steps, right? :)  This one is for Renee, whom I am going to visit next month.

Not that you're particularly interested, but I've only ever made one infant carrier, and the other five have been improvised-from-the-infant-pattern toddler carriers.  Admittedly, ring slings are way easier to handle with a newborn, and the babies fit so nicely all snugged up in cute pouches.  And ring slings are stuff-into-a-diaper-bag convenient. But I'm happy to have my infant carrier. What if I just have to get stuff done with my arms in front and the kid won't quiet down? Back carry :) (simple).

So for now all I have are pictures of the mei tai on my couch in our bedroom... chillin' until it's time for him to work :) In two weeks I'll be down in TX and we can try it out with Renee's adorable hobbit babies. I can't wait!

If I had to name this one, I think I'd call him Sam (yes, I think it's masculine).

Mei Tai

[Also, for those who are interested, I took these pictures with my new camera... What? I haven't told you about that yet? Well, well... Looks like another post is due soon!]

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What's Better

...than a reversible purse?

A reversible purse with three options, of course!

Humbly presenting my third variation of the Estelle handbag.

It's really just a larger version of the original, but.. one day, the idea occurred to me to put a divider inside the purse (for better organization).  With two pockets on the "inside" of a reversible purse, doesn't that lend itself to the reversibility of both pockets?  I thought so.

I thought a lot about this purse before I started sewing it.  I must have looked rather comic--materials and pattern pieces spread all over the bed (and the rest of the bedroom, too), with me standing before it all, hands on my hips, glaring at it.  Sometimes I'd be sitting on the shuttle to or from work, eyes closed, stitching the pattern pieces together in my head, trying to figure out how I'd put this or that area of the purse together nicely.

I even sat down and tried to sketch out some of the seams, but I'm terrible at drawing, especially perspective drawing.  Nonetheless, it all helped a little bit.  Ultimately, I had to start cutting and pinning and flipping inside- or right-side out.

And mostly, it turned out :)  I managed, without shoving, to fit a number of useful items in my bag. Should come in handy when I don't want to wear out my dainty shoes walking home from work.

reversed to green solid

The nice thing about the shape of these purses is that it doesn't look ridiculously full when it's stuffed with all the things I think I might need.  And the pleats in the front seem to add virtually invisible expansion properties.  I can fit so much in all these purses.. it's a little strange (and sometimes heavy, too).  

But it's definitely a "day bag" that one would use for an all-day outing somewhere.  In the city, though, I do that often enough to need a nice-sized purse.  I could take out the shoes and fit an extra scarf and some gloves for cold weather.  Just so you  know, a netbook would fit in this one (the first one I made was too small at the opening) :)  I'll have to see how my new camera will fit, too! 

And what about the Moms out there? Do you think this is big enough for a small-ish diaper bag?  Maybe an "essentials" bag that you take for short trips?  I have no idea how much goes into a diaper bag, but let me know what you think. 

T says this purse would be great if I were on the run from the cops: "No, the lady we want had a green purse, this one's way different. Let's keep looking."  Though I guess if I were trying to be inconspicuous, I shouldn't have chosen such loud materials, right? Oh well :) 
reversed to "hot tamale" 

Check out the album of all three sizes, with "fit-able contents" laid out :) 


Contact me for pricing info if you'd like one for yourself (or for a friend) :) 

Friday, April 9, 2010

of Capistrano

Did anyone else do a Mission Report in fourth grade?  I realize it was probably specific to California schools, probably even to California Catholic schools, but I have good memories of my mission report.

I chose San Juan Capistrano, the "jewel of the missions" as it is nicknamed, for my mission in fourth grade.  Myself being only 10 years old, and the report being a scratch-the-surface-at-best delving into the history of the mission, I don't remember very much about Capistrano.  I didn't even know who St. John of Capistrano was...

I do remember a few things, though.  Capistrano is famous for the swallows that would return to the mission, nesting on the ruined church walls.  Traditionally, the city of Capistrano would celebrate the return of the birds on St. Joseph's day (March 19) and bid them farewell around St. John's Day (October 23).  Sadly, it seems that the swallows have not returned for the past several years.

I also remember the fountain in the courtyard.  I love the way it just drips the water out the side, trailing down the plants that over-grow the main bowl.  I remember the coi in the pond as well.  Those were a big hit with little Madelyn, the daughter of our friends who took us to the mission.

It was so much fun to walk around the mission, though we didn't stay very long.  Momma kept the diorama I made (which she helped me with, of course), and it still hangs in the nook of Daddy's house (I'll take a picture next time I'm out that way).  Because of the diorama, I remember the ruined church attached to the mission.  Before an earthquake caused the roof to collapse, it was the largest of any of the mission churches.

Capistrano also boasts the only surviving chapel where Fr. Serra (the founder of all the California Missions) said Mass.  I remember when we visited the mission (as a family, a sort of field trip together), I got a lovely book of post cards, mostly pictures of this chapel.  Beautiful.

This church has a side chapel dedicated to St. Peregrine, patron saint of those suffering from cancer.

This was the first (California) mission T has ever visited.  Not a bad starting place, huh?  It convinced him to use the mission's central open courtyard model for our hobbit hole on our farm someday :)  Which works out well because I've already designed our house like that anyway ;)

Someday, T and I want to drive all the way up El Camino Real, visiting all the missions one by one, taking a leisurely vacation along coastal California.  I have only ever visited three: Capistrano, Carmel, and San Miguel.  I'd love to go back again (and again and again...).

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Lamb Cake

Every year at Easter, we have lamb cake.  When I was first introduced to lamb cake, through my in-laws, all I heard for weeks before Easter was how tasty lamb cake was and how everyone couldn't wait to take a slice.  Most people would think I'd have caught on and realized it was not a cake made out of lamb.  Most people would have guessed that a regular vanilla white cake shaped like a lamb would make more sense. Not me :)

But I soon learned for myself how tasty lamb cake is.  It's not that there is a special specific recipe that makes it tasty.  Perhaps it's all the fasting from sweets so often characteristic of our Lent.  Perhaps it's that you are so hungry by the time you get to slice the back end of this little guy that it makes it extra good. Perhaps the necessarily-dense cake soaks up all the sweet moisture from the frosting "just rightly."  Maybe it's the soft curly coconut pressed into the frosting as fleece.

Whatever it is, Easter is now not complete for me without it. It is a staple (along with lots of meat and cheese and lamb (shaped) butter and Pascha bread!).

Here is the recipe I use, taken from the Joy of Cooking (1970s edition), specifically for molded cakes.

White Cake II

1 c sugar
1/3 - 1/2 c butter
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 c milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 egg whites (beaten stiff, but not dry)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  While oven is pre-heating, prepare your mold.  I am not one to diligently grease anything that I don't have to, but with this cake, it makes your life so much easier.  Spread a thin layer of solid shortening (I think butter would work, but I usually use a vegetable shortening) on any part of the mold that cake batter will touch.  Make sure the layer is consistent and relatively thin (you don't want globs of shortening messing up the form of your cake).  

Next (this is important) coat the shortening with flour [btw, if you're doing a chocolate cake, use cocoa powder instead of flour].  My method is to sprinkle a tablespoon or so of flour in the mold and shake it and bang it around until it's all coated.  Shake out any excess (and use it for the other half of the mold, if it's a two-part).  Set the molds aside (not on the stove--the shortening will melt) until ready to use. 

On to the cake. Cream sugar and butter in a mixing bowl until well-combined.  Sift remaining dry ingredients together.  Combine milk and vanilla.  Add dry ingredients in thirds to sugar mixture, alternating with thirds of the milk mixture until the batter is smooth and uniform (it will be relatively thick--great for a mold cake).

When the egg whites are sufficiently whipped, gently fold them into the batter until just combined.

If you're using a two-part mold, one half will have a hole in it.  This half is the lid of the mold. Pour the cake batter into the bottom part, evening it out in all partitions, and put it on a cookie sheet with the "lid" on the mold.  Bake for 25 minutes.  To check for done-ness, insert a toothpick through the steam hole in the lid.  Bake till it's done--soggy insides make for slouchy lambs :)

Be sure to check out these 10 handy Cake Tips at Smitten Kitchen (btw, super-fabulous site if you haven't heard of it before!) for good "handling" ideas on making/decorating this lamb cake.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Our Easter Triduum this year was a little helter-skelter.  For one thing, we weren't in the same city for any of the liturgies.  We weren't even together for all of them.  But that certainly didn't detract from the Beauty and Grace of the Gift that is Pascha.  Nothing can do that.

On Holy Thursday, T drove Viv and me to the airport early in the morning and she and I flew to CA.  We met up with her college friends for lunch and had a leisurely afternoon of wandering and window shopping (well, I did find a pretty tank top and some fun earrings that made it from the window to my purse) :)  Taylor had classes in the morning, so his flight was later in the day.

Viv and I went to Mass at St. Cornelius Church, close to the airport.  It was a beautiful liturgy.  I am always impressed at how mystical the Triduum services are.  I have been to many Holy Thursday Masses over the years, and I can't remember a bad one.  Maybe it's the solemnity of the event that puts me in the right place for truly experiencing liturgy. Maybe the momentousness gives liturgists an extra reverence and special attention.

As I was sitting through Mass, thinking about my Lent and the sacrifices I promised to make, the helpful things I promised to do, and all my shortcomings and failings, I was nevertheless terribly excited for Easter.

Easter is my favorite.  I explained it this weekend, comparing Easter to Christmas.  Christmas is quite and hushed and intimate. A new mother holding her son, watching the first precious breaths he takes.  Everything is holding its breath in silent awe.

Easter is different.  Easter is hard. There is the strange and mystical and incomprehensible institution of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday. The brutal and horrific death of Our Lord on Friday. The waiting, the longing, the grieving, the pain, the loss, and the anxiety of Holy Saturday.  But.. on "this side" of the Resurrection, there is always Easter Sunday.  There is the candle-lit vigil awaiting the triumphant dawn of that most Holy Day.  It is total gift. And it is totally awe-some.

So there I sat, on Holy Thursday, hearing Jesus say: "You call me 'teacher' and 'master' and rightly so, for indeed, I am..." and watching and praying as the priest humbled himself to wash the feet of his parishioners.  And I thought to myself: "I have not been very disciplined this Lent."   But I realized, though it is no excuse to slack during Lent, that the quality of your observance does not change, in the slightest, the Joy of Easter. It's not as though anyone can "earn" the Resurrection.  One can't merit a place at this most Holy Feast by fasting such-and-such amount.  I do not say that Lenten sacrifices do not help in preparing for Easter.  But these things do not make us "ready" to receive the grace of Christ's Resurrection. We will never be ready, "but only say the Word, Lord, and we shall be healed."  I can never be ready for Easter because Easter will always surprise me.

"Tantum ergo sacramentum" we sang, as we followed Christ in procession to the Altar of Repose.  I waited there with Christ for a few minutes while Taylor's plane landed in Long Beach.  Tears were welling up inside me--I often cry during the Triduum--but the tears this year, I was certain, were tears of joy.  Grateful Joy.  Joy at the Gift and all the many blessings I have received this year.  Thanksgiving for Christ's sacrifices and His Love.  I smiled as soft drops fell down my cheeks.

We spent Friday in Ridgecrest with my family.  Taylor was sick :(  so he slept most of the day. I spent time with my sister and with Daddy, and we went to the Communion Service and venerated the cross.  "This is the wood of the cross, on which hung the Savior of the World."  Come--let us worship.

Holy Saturday is a funny day for me.  I feel like a little kid again, waiting for the cosmic explosion of Joy that is Easter.  I want to sing Easter songs and I think about the vigil and the prayers and the candle--the anticipation of the night!  "Not yet, Annie!" Taylor told me, "You can't sing that song yet."  But almost :) It's so close.  I can't help but be excited.  I know the ending of the story and I will not be silent.

And the Vigil--did you know it was designed to take forever? To heighten the anticipation and the longing of the night?  The Eucharistic prayer is especially long (you may have noticed).  The blessing of the Easter fire, the candle-lit procession, the readings (and readings and readings) and the different psalms.  And then we receive into the Church those who have been preparing themselves.  Our dear friend Dave was confirmed in the Mission Basilica of San Juan Capistrano--a beautiful church for a beautiful event with beautiful people. Finally, Communion. Many parts but one body.  "Go in peace, Alleluia! ALLELUIA!" Thanks be to God.  Alleluia Alleluia!

Christ is risen from the dead!
By death He conquered death, 
and to those in the graves He granted Life! 
And to us He granted life eternal. 
Let us glorify His resurrection. 

Christ is Risen

I posted this last year. And the year before.  I will post it next year.  It is beautiful--and perfect for Easter. It is no wonder they called him "golden tongue."

St. John Chrysostom's Paschal Homily

Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God?
Let him enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Is there anyone who is a grateful servant?
Let him rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let him now receive his wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let him receive his due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he, too, shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come, too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.
To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God. 
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, O Death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be glory and power
now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
St. John Chrysostom (A.D. 347-407)