Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Third Sunday of Advent (in which I seem to suck at all the things)

By the  end of the Third Sunday of Advent we were totally failing at Mass-going this season. It is not quite as bad as last winter, I think, but between the downpours (and no car!), the growth-spurt tantrums (I'm guessing it's a thing?), and the never-ending lack of sleep it seems that we're meeting an epic fail despite the number of Mass times available to us in this metropolis. So that's a disappointment but it's also life with two toddlers.

As for the novena, totally sucking at that also. But in good news, I've managed to get the Advent candles lit on Sunday each week so that's quite an improvement over previous years. Small steps, my friends, small steps.

All that said, last Tuesday (December 8th) was the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (Holy Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee). In most places it's a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics, meaning that they're supposed to treat it as importantly as a Sunday and get to Mass. In Canada things are very lax so there's no obligation. But I try not to let that stop me, especially now that I've discovered a 7:15 Mass at the Cathedral downtown. I can get there and back to my work shuttle on one bus ticket and it doesn't even make me late for work. So off I went to enjoy a peaceful and quiet Mass. Of course nothing seems to come easy lately so my fancy new umbrella with its auto-open-auto-close feature broke and wouldn't close, no matter how much button pushing, force, or cursing was directed to it. And it was downpouring. To say I was in a bit of a fluster would be putting it mildly. But it didn't matter, because there was something soul-deeply-calming about being in a candle-dim church, listening to the sounds of the rain and the voices praying, feeling like I was being held close in Mary's heart. It's totally worth the 6am wakeup time to go.

In order to try and give a nod to the feast day at home, I went for a white-themed meal (to symbolize purity). We had a thai chicken-coconut soup, garlic bread, and lemon snow bars. It was a lot of fun.

I spent the rest of the week trying to gear up in order to survive the weekend. Walter has his Ukrainian dance class every Saturday at 9:30am in downtown Vancouver, which means that we leave the house at 8:30am, which means that IF no children wake up early I get to sleep in by about 10 minutes compared to my normal wake-up time. And this week was even more hectic, because I was taking Annie along with us AND it was dress rehearsal day AND all the adults were corralled to help set up the hall for Sunday's recital. But I survived and thanks to the magic of crayons the children behaved during the setup and Annie even made friends with a baby at the class.

Later that afternoon my brother came over to help make Christmas shortbread. He is much less edgy with the kids than I am when it comes to making stuff so it's always nice to have him around for kid participation time. It ended up being a tonne of fun! We made our batch of cookies, got them all suitably decorated, and I don't think that I yelled once. It probably helped that John brought a case of cola with him because man oh man was I running on sugary caffeine all weekend.

Then came Sunday. Not just any Sunday, but Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for "rejoice!" and it's the day that we light the pink advent candle and the day in my house that we start hitting the Christmas festivities with the same hardcore zeal as the rest of our culture. Usually it's the day I put up the tree and really start indulging in my favourite Christmas albums. As a nod to all things seasonally liturgical, Annie & I wear pink and we all try to get in a very joyful mood. This year? Mostly epic fail.

The toddlers would! not! stop! screaming! So we changed our plans of going to a morning Mass at the Cathedral and opted to stay at home until Dance Recital time and then go to one of the three evening Masses we could easily do on our way home. And then a certain Sir threw an hour-long fit when his cruel parents tried to dress him before leaving the house. And then the sprinkling of rain turned into a downpour that ended as soon as we reached the stage in our journey that no longer required being exposed to the rain. And my poor sick husband got soaked to the bone, and is subsequently much sicker now, and the toddlers would! not! stop! screaming!

We did make it through the Dance Recital with a minimum of upset. I count it as a success that I got Walter into his costume, sans hat (he was supposed to be a magical mushroom from Baba Yaga's forest), because he was mostly adamant that he'd wear it "tomorrow". The recital itself was great fun, because Ukrainians are AWESOME. From the minute the music started the hall was full of stamping feet and clapping hands and good, positive energy. After the recital there was a sa potluck, carol singing, and a visit from Grandfather Frost (who had a present for each child).

The journey home was less successful, as the crying ramped up again (thank you, Baby Annie) and we ended up missing Mass again because of the screaming and crying and general inability of Certain Small Humans to cope with social situations. The children mostly misbehaved until bedtime, the Advent candle didn't get lit until well after they were tucked away, I didn't find the third Sunday of Advent prayer, and it was not the joyful Sunday I'd been hoping for. So I ranted and raved and added to the general misery of the household. And then I ordered Chinese food and put my feet up and remembered that tomorrow is another day.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Second Sunday of Advent

It’s the second Sunday of Advent and I’m working hard at trying to fight the Christmas rush, while realising that I’m not just imagining the pressure. Somehow we’ve ended up with an incredibly busy two weeks, after which point we’ll be leaving Vancouver (yay!) to head to the Island and David’s parents for Christmas. Do you have any idea how happy I am that I don’t have to work this Christmas? Do you know how hard it is to work on Christmas when it is not only one of the biggest holidays of the year but also one of the holiest days of the year for your religion? It was a double whammy of suckitude. Don’t get me wrong – the work that I do is important and I felt some solidarity with other professionals who provide “essential services” and have to work on the holidays because evils in this world don’t recognise holidays, but it was hard.

I digress.

The first thing on my radar for this past week was something that I hope will become a new and awesome Porter Family Advent Tradition. November 30th was the Feast of St Andrew and there is a beautiful Christmas novena attached to his feast day. Technically a novena is a 9 days prayer, whereas this Christmas Novena is supposed to be said 15 times a day between now and Christmas, but it’s a relatively simple way to change our daily prayers to reflect the season. In the Perfect World we would be rocking this Novena. In actual fact, I don’t have it memorised which makes it a lot harder to say 15 times a day. Work’s been crazy busy as the holiday season is the busiest time of year so even my plans of saying the prayer at my desk have been scuppered because I’m running around so much. But I’m saying it at least once a day, most of the time with the children, and that’s a good start. It really is a beautiful prayer:

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold. In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God! to hear my prayer and grant my desires, through the merits of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of His Blessed Mother. Amen.

The next thing on my radar is the Feast of St Nikolas. St Nikolas, better known as Santa Claus, is a pretty hardcore 4th century saint who happens to be the patron saint of children and who, in popular traditions around the world, secretly gives gifts to them on his feast day (often leaving them in their shoes). Coming from an anti-Santa household, this has been a good way to reintroduce the tradition into my own family. I’m pro-Santa, by the way, but I like celebrating this feast as a way of introducing my children to the historical Santa. And this year it is awesome, because his feast day falls on a day which just happens to be the day we had already planned to go to Metrotown to get our pictures with Santa. I'm so pleased with this that I might just make it our normal Santa-photo day, assuming work schedules can jive with Santa schedules in the coming years.

Our very somber Santa photo. I'm pretty sure I'm the only one smiling. Both kids were on the verge of meltdowns so we were pulled into the picture and I guess paying donating for only one picture made us persona non grata because they hustled us in and out of there very quickly (unlike last year when we requested 2 photos and ended up with 4). 
I do like to keep the feast simple, so the kids are getting a chocolate Santa, a book, and their Christmas-Mass outfits. The adults will also get chocolate and will make merry once the children are in bed by toasting St Nikolas with a round of "Bishop's Helper" (spiced wine).

Walter's face! This was taken at the precise moment he learned that he couldn't open his present until we'd taken a photo AND he'd have to sit next to his sister. She's being wary because...punches. 

They're actually happy here, but Emily just plain refuses to smile for the camera.
This Sunday also happened to be the dedication of our cousin “Baby Avelynn”, so we trekked over to East Vancouver for the pre-dedication party. My cousins are fantastic hosts and the beer & appies kept coming, including a lovely sausage, cheese, & pickle platter that Tara had on hand as a nod to all things Ukrainian Canadian. It was wonderful to meet Paul's side of the family and to meet my cousins' closest friends.

If I am being cheeky I will tell you that a baby dedication is an Anabaptist response to infant Baptism, although that is not really accurate because there are too many theological differences to draw a true parallel. Suffice to say it is an opportunity for parents and their church community to dedicate their baby to God and to dedicate themselves to helping to raise the child in their faith. My brother and I were both dedicated when we were babies. As an aside, I remember my brother’s dedication being A Big Deal. My dad’s parents came all the way from Abbotsford (and I’m pretty sure that my Großmutter must have been ill with leukemia at the time) and I seem to remember mum being very excited over his blue velvet(?) romper and wandering around the house all misty-eyed and excited. My attitude was one of indifference and boredom...although in my defense I was only 6.5. Anyway, at the time it was impressed upon my brain that this is one of the Things We Do and then of course I converted to Catholicism and it became one of the Things We Don’t Do because we baptize our babies which, of course, as an Anabaptist was one of the Things We Definitely Don’t Do so the whole “what to do with my new baby and my religion” question really becomes quite a complex one for me.

All decked out for my Dedication in the family gown made by one of my aunts. 
That was this week’s busyness. So now we come to this week’s rest, a time to say the Advent prayer and to remind myself that with all the busy preparations for our Christmas celebrations there is time to rest, pray, and draw from the well of peace.

Lord, our God, we praise You for Your Son, Jesus Christ, for He is Emmanuel, the Hope of all people.
He is the Wisdom that teaches and guides us.
He is the Savior of us all.
O Lord,
let your blessing come upon us as we light the first and second (purple) candles of this wreath.
May the wreath and its light be a sign of Christ’s promise of salvation.
May He come quickly and not delay.
We ask this in His holy name. Amen.

Monday, 30 November 2015

First Sunday of Advent

Advent, the four beautiful weeks before Christmas where we prepare our hearts and homes to receive the Incarnation. A time to ponder sinfulness, salvation, and to start us on the road that leads to Easter. Also, a time when everyone around us goes completely Christmas-mad!

For the Porters, the first Sunday of Advent means:

1) David can finally play Christmas music (and watch Christmas movies) without reproach. In the Ideal World it would only be Advent Music, but I can extend my decrees only so far and we have so many great Christmas records that it would be a shame to only listen to them between December 25th - January 7th. 

2) Sunday desserts suddenly become part of the Christmas baking program. Working mum's gotta save time wherever they can, right? So instead of the usual pies, puddings, cakes etc, it's going to be squares, cookies, and candies for the next few weeks. Today we're kicking it off with peppermint bark. I can pretty much guarantee that the Man of the Place will hate it but as it simply involves stirring crushed candy canes into melted chocolate it seems achievable and like something that toddlers can help with. 

3) We will build our Advent Wreath. This family tradition started in Ely, which means this is our third year doing it. People who live in tiny apartments with no storage cannot accumulate an excess of liturgical decorations. Do you know how much space a wreath takes up and how awkward it is to store? Do you know how hard it is to find one that is both beautiful and affordable? 

This morning, on our way home from Mass, the children and I foraged for some winter evergreens to build our wreath. I was hoping for holly & ivy, but instead we managed to find some red berries of dubious origin, one lone adolescent evergreen, and a few hedges of greenery that looked like it might last until the new year. I may have cursed cities under my breath during the whole excursion, particularly as I have it on good authority that rats are nesting in some of those green hedges. I miss the beautiful fenland walks for Ely or the forested country where I grew up, where to harvest Christmas greenery meant a walk to the sideyard and the holly bush growing there and the ivy twining its way up the mighty trunks of the towering evergreens. City dweller by choice I am not.

While the children slept I snatched a few minutes to clean away the toy-and-crumb clutter that seems to surround our coffee table. That way, when they woke up I was able to quickly settle them in to helping with the advent wreath making. My method is simple -- decide what size wreath we want and then cut out a circle of cardboard to that size. It can either be mounted (ie taped) onto a plate or put on a board or directly onto whatever surface we're using. In years past I've wrapped the circle in tinfoil or tissue to make it pretty, but this year Emily suggested that we just colour it in. It was a great idea!

Once the circle is decorated, I lay the base layer of the wreath. This year I formed the base layer with evergreen branches from a young tree, which meant that they were easy to bend. I just stick them on with some tape here or there. After the base layer is down, I weave on a top layer. I like to weave this one in and around the base layer, because it hides the tape and adds a fullness and some height to our wreath. Then I weave in our more decorative pieces, which usually include red berries and perhaps a different type of greenery.

and yes, as I pointed out to David although I might be in my jammies and a cardie I am still rocking 3 strands of pearls. 
The final stage is to add the candles. I misjudged the size this year so our Christ candle doesn't fit, but that's no big deal as it wouldn't be lit until Christmas anyway, at which point we won't be lighting the advent candles. So I will just remove them and maybe use our largest white candle as it should fill up a good portion of the wreath.

And that was that! We set it on the living room windowsill and David read a prayer for the First Sunday of Advent:

Bestir, O Lord, Thy might, we pray thee and come; that, defended by Thee, we may deserve rescue from approaching dangers brought on by our sins, and being set free by Thee, obtain our salvation. Who livest and reignest, with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.

I lit the candle and we all enjoyed the cheerful light until the children went to bed.

Love my ghost image in the background? I do not have time to edit photos! But what I am loving is how one of the beautiful wedding ornaments is centred behind our wreath. Our faith is the heart of our family and I'm loving this visual of it.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Here we Go Again

It's a new liturgical year and I'm back from yet another unplanned hiatus. Life with toddlers and working full time is a busy life. I'm hoping that maybe I can find the time to blog once a week, just like I'm hoping I can find the time to do my embroidery at least on the weekends and keep up with my emails and remember to apply for all various things I keep forgetting to apply for that the Government will send me now that I'm back in Canada and... well, you see where this is going. 

The thing is, over the past few years of difficulty and stress I've been wondering where my place in this new, harder, world is. In the dreams of a younger me by this point in time I am a stay at home mum in my own house and with several little kids running around. That's not reality for me right now and I don't want to sit around feeling sorry for myself, because I have faith and hope that right now I am where God needs me to be. 

It is often a very lonely place. Because I work full time and then watch the kids full time so that my husband can work (and vice versa) there is not a lot of opportunity to go out and do the things that one needs to do to meet the new people who become friends. And because we're Catholic and being Catholic is basically the sum of who we are and what we do throughout the year, it is always particularly lovely to connect with other people who are doing the same things. Then we seem less weird being the ones who are still celebrating Christmas a few days in January, because our friends are doing it too and in this hipster world it means we're basically the coolest of the cool with our crazy trend-breaking trends. 

In this ridiculously decadent, over-priced mega-city where we live I know that mine is not the only family renting, not owning, and renting a much smaller space than we would have in the ideal world. We may not even be the only family without a van, let alone a car. And I am certainly not one of those working mothers who are sometimes denigrated as selfishly working simply to buy unnecessary luxuries and vacations for my family. My life, and my home, is often messy and full of stress and half the time I think my landlords are secretly wondering if their tenants are complete and total insane slobs. But as my husband likes to remind me, we only get one life so we might as well make the best of it and have fun while we're going. 

So, here we go again. I'm going to try and blog more, because it's a good outlet for me and because these precious days of family life are flying by. There never seems to be enough time to do anything that I love, and I know that is the life of a mum with toddlers, but week by week I am slowly regaining minutes as the children get older and as life settles into a bit of a groove. 

I am going to try and blog more. I am going to try and share how a working mum with crazy toddlers can still live out the liturgical year, simply and easily. I have no idea if I will succeed, or if another surge of activity will tear me away from all my relaxation outlets for another six weeks. But hopefully, hopefully, I can begin to carve out a little space of hope & promise for myself. 

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Feeling Small in the Face of the Syrian Crisis

This is the week where my newsfeed erupted with pictures of dead Syrian babies, the week where for once I struggled to correct my own daughter who caught a glimpse of one of the pictures and commented “baby sleeping”. The picture put me in mind of another one, this time a mental image, of Mennonite babies succumbing to hypothermia as families fled massacre & terror across the frozen Steppe. And I thought of how I live in a country populated by immigrants & refugees. We, their children & grandchildren, are the lucky ones. Can we fail to be less generous to those suffering now, when the foundation of our present good fortune was built by those who lost much and risked much and found a safe haven in North America?

Everyone seems to agree that an indefinable something needs to change, although there is no consensus on what. We’re not sure how much we should be politicizing one photo, because we aren’t quite sure at what point an impetus for change simply becomes exploitation for political agenda in an election year. Should we be focusing on pressuring to increase refugee quotas or on finding reputable charities to give aid to those left in refugee camps? Should countries be letting in illegal migrants, or will that only make an unsolvable problem worse?

I sit here, trying to figure out how much to tune in or out. To do nothing in the face of horror seems inhuman, yet most actions seem so futile when one considers the actual size of the crisis. It's like putting a bandaid on a gaping wound. We may even effect change but it’s not going to solve the actual problem, because even if we could somehow fix the Syria problem, the problem of war & terror & refugees & dead babies would move to another group & another country (only a year ago we were clamoring about Boko Haram and kidnapped girls).

Yet every life saved, every piece of aid or relief given, is an act of mercy even in the face of unending evil. It is our participation in these works of mercy, our small voices united into a clamour against the evil that men bring against men, that allows us to retain the goodness, the conscience, of our humanity. I have no solutions beyond that, but I know that we must continue to care and to clamour and to do whatever part is given to us to counter evil with love.

“There is no oppression of a group of people but that which has its root and inception in the hearts of the oppressors. There is no wild lawlessness and riot and bloodlust of a mob but that which has its place in the hearts of the persons who are that mob. Just so, if justice and fairness and kindness fill the minds of a crowd of persons, those things will be shown in their actions. So, if we are eager to help in putting the world to rights, our first duty is to put ourselves right, to overcome our selfishness and be as eager that others shall be treated fairly as we are that no advantage shall be taken of ourselves; and to deal justly and have a loving charity and mercy for others as we wish them to have for us”. – Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1919

Saturday, 8 August 2015

In which I finally get around to posting about our unusual Christmas

I’ve reached the point in life where I’m realising, if not always practicing, that to truly live & enjoy life to the fullest means making the best of what we have, even when it’s less than ideal. That was an attitude that I really had to bring to the table for Christmas 2014, because my new job required that I be in the office for Christmas Day & Boxing Day.

Of course there was a lot to be thankful for – a job in a field that I enjoy, a place of our own, family nearby, double-time-and-a-half pay... but that doesn’t quite compensate for having to work on one of the biggest days of Christian celebration, a day which our Church says should be “free from servile labour”, and a day where I wanted to be at home in my pjs, enjoying Christmas magic through the eyes of my children. I view it is a sign of my being a grownup with responsibilities that I managed to not complain about working on the holiday, on all holidays, much...aside from one or two meltdowns to David.
I was not the only one who had a meltdown, although clearly I deserve to suffer for making this one suffer by taking away her Christmas snacks
There were some minor Christmas miracles which helped. Yes, I did have to be in the office on Christmas Day AND Boxing Day. But I got Christmas Eve off and my Christmas Day hours were at least early enough that I was home before 4pm, which meant I still got a good chunk of Christmas afternoon & evening. And our children are still too little to know about dates. So I did the only logical thing I could do, which was to combine our Christmas Eve & Christmas Day traditions onto the 24th, and to spend the 25th in the manner of the Boxing Days I remember as a kid (ie presents from Grandparents & visiting around plates of snacks).

I’d like to sugar coat it, but a lot of things this year did feel a bit off. It was weird opening presents on Christmas Eve morning. But we still managed to have a lot of fun. David & the children really outdid themselves with my present, sending me on a treasure hunt through the house, where clues led to more clues (and chocolate bears!) and the whole needed to be assembled to create the map that led to my present’s location (a beautiful Anne of Green Gables necklace). The kids were really engaged in their presents this year, with Annie enjoying all the treats in her stocking and Walter enthusiastically tearing into his train & train station packages.

We followed our usual routine of stockings, followed by Christmas breakfast (this year waffles & peameal bacon), followed by baby naps, followed by big presents. And then it was time to revert to our normal Christmas Eve routine – Mass, a dinner I didn’t have to cook, and The Muppet’s Christmas Carol.

What to do when you don't have Christmas stockings or a mantle
Christmas Mass is often bittersweet for me, as I’ve spent most of my Catholic Christmases either away from my parents or away from my husband. This year’s seemed mostly like a tragic comedy, which was really frustrating as I had hoped for a nice family Mass. Although we got to the church 15 minutes early (which, with toddlers, is basically like arriving an hour early when it comes to keeping them entertained) the only place to sit was in the hall, with no view of the Mass (just bad audio). And a lot of the parents could not be bothered at all to keep control of their children, so we had a really hard time convincing our guys that now was not the time to run races around the hall with the other children. I was really cross.

We returned home to one near disaster, namely that after 5 years (1/6th of my life!) abroad I was so used to British customs (pubs open!) that it didn’t occur to me on any meaningful level that Canadian eateries would close ridiculously early on Christmas Eve. By the time I had gotten the children to bed it looked like we would be going without dinner, as our usual pizza place was closed and the others were looking unlikely. Fortunately David is a trooper and found number after number for me to call until we finally found a Little Caesar’s open & willing to deliver. We kicked back with pizza, wings, and a delicious bottle of wine that our landlords had given us for Christmas. Evening salvaged thanks to St Anthony & my husband!

On Christmas Day I took myself to the office, where I sulked at my computer until inspired to put on the Vatican’s Youtube Channel and listen to the Christmas Mass. I followed this with the Festival of Lessons & Carols from King’s College, Cambridge, and I confess that I may have shed a few tears behind the wall of my monitors in a sorrow for the life we have been forced to leave. Christmas is an emotional time. But at least my company sprang for lunch, and everyone was in a relatively jolly mood because we were all going home to families & fun once the work was over, and in my case my parents were picking me up after work and we were going to my house for Christmas Part II.

Singing "Happy Birthday" to Baby Jesus
This was the first Christmas Day in six years that I’ve spent with my family. My mum outdid herself with presents, so much so that she started making excuses for herself, and we all had a cozy evening enjoying our gifts, eating appies & sweets, and basking in the Christmas glow. David was particularly excited to find out that he was getting his long-desired stereo speakers as a gift from all of us. It was a really lovely end to the day, even if it was a really unusual Christmas.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Menu Plan Monday: 16/05 - 22/05

We’ve been celebrating the start of summer with May Long weekend. My menu was planned before I noticed that the mercury was rising. I think this is going to be our last week of hearty comfort foods for awhile.

Linking up with Menu Plan Monday at orgjunkie.com 

Saturday: Buffalo wings; cornbread; sauteed kale, apricot beer 
It’s a long weekend and we’re kicking it off in style with some relaxed finger food. I’ve combined my mum’s brining method with two of Chef Michael Smith’s chicken wing recipes to make the ultimate in baked wings. So good!

Sunday: Jen’s Parmesan chicken & popovers, baked sweet potato, organic rainbow baby carrots
I decided to use up the last of the frozen chicken breasts on one of David’s favourite meals. Feasting on Sundays!

Monday: Muscarella marinated rib eye steaks; garlic & parsley potatoes; mushrooms with garlic; margaritas
Our big grill-friendly meal to end the long weekend.

Tuesday: Cuban sandwiches; fries; broccoli & cheese tots
We ended up doing pizza night early last week (and then went for parmesan salmon on Friday – yum), so we’ll be indulging in cubans tomorrow.

Wednesday: Leftover lasagna; green peas
A perfect midweek meal as it just involves reheating. This might be a good night to bake a cake!

Thursday: Ikea Meatball Dinner 
This is one of David’s favourites. The meatballs are actually pretty good and it’s a super easy meal to pull together.

Friday: Pizza night!

Friday, 15 May 2015

7 Quick Takes -- Vol. 22

--- 1 ---
Quotes of the Week 
D: Maybe when you grow up, Annie, you’ll be a famous scientist.
A: NO. Famous scientist BABY.

Annie, singing softly to her baby doll:
Hush hush baybee, no cwy baybee.

Quizzing Walter (Bobay) on the Bible story of Jesus & the little children:
M: And what did the disciples say?
W: Oh, hi Bobay!
M: okkkkkkk...and what did Jesus say?
W: Hi Bobay too!
--- 2 ---
Sunday was Mother’s Day. The day was a bit of a difficult one, as HeWhoShallNotBeNamed decided that it would be a really great idea to throw tantrums all day. And we were in the final throws of David’s latest round of publication craziness, meaning that us adults were both exhausted. But of course I still had a lovely time – they’d made me the most wonderful Mother’s Day card (from an upcycled Christmas card and featuring “the white ashes of love” and we went for an amazing sushi lunch at this all you can eat place that my brother recommended. Lunch was fantastic, both with the food, the happy babies, and the dining experience of incredibly surly wait-staff who seemed to really resent having to serve us all we could eat! Annie ate 1.5 bowls of udon while I enjoyed sharing a plate with Walter. Trying to feed a toddler with chopsticks was an hilarious experience – I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.

--- 3 ---
Speaking of laughing, I’ve been listening to the “Fountains of Carrots” podcast at work and it is amazing. I laugh, I cry, I probably appear insane to all those around me... These ladies share my taste in books, art, and faith. I can’t get enough! This recent podcast on "The Art of Making Do" is one of my absolute favourites. It was so encouraging listening to another working mum speak about parenting & life & faith. All this great common sense came through the conversation, like how we do what’s best for OUR families, even if that doesn’t look like what’s best for someone else’s family. It made my heart happy to hear the acknowledgement that sometimes both parents have to work because those are the cards life dealt them, not because they should just be better at budgeting or are sacrificing their family on an altar of money. Most of the other young mum’s I know are able to stay at home, so it can get a bit lonely feeling at times because my days are so different.
--- 4 ---
Book of the Week This week I finished reading Kipling’s Indian Tales. I liked about 50% of the stories. The good ones were really good, but the rest of the book was a bit hard to follow or just “meh”. David agreed, so now I know I’m not just missing something.
--- 5 ---
My cousin Tara just had a darling baby girl. I made her this:

--- 6 ---
A month ago, we made a good dent in the stock at Sikora – they had an amazing sale for Record Store Day. We’ve been listening to one album of beautiful music each night since then. It’s been a treat! Alas, we’ve now exhausted all of our purchases aside from some big boxed opera sets. Good thing a stack of Stompin’ Tom & Chad Mitchell just arrived yesterday.
--- 7 ---
Album of the Week For Mother’s Day the gang gave me a sealed copy of the Mitchell Trio’s 1963 album “The Best of the Chad Mitchell Trio”. It was very exciting getting a sealed LP of one of my favourite North American folk groups! The album is mostly humorous songs with a few traditional folk & gospel songs added for good measure. I really liked comparing the recordings on this album to others of the same songs. I felt that the album went at a slower pace and that the music was a little less theatrical than some of their later works. We had a really great time listening through the album once the kids went to sleep. This is one of my favourites: 

 For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain't the Lyceum!

Monday, 11 May 2015

Menu Plan Monday: 9/5 - 15/5

I am amazed at how much extra time I can find most days now that I’m done work at 5 instead of 6:30 – reclaiming that 1.5hrs where it counts! I’ve been able to enjoy meal planning again, and right now I even have a loaf of bread setting in my bread machine. If you’d told me this a few months ago I would’ve laughed at you and then cried.

Linking up with Menu Plan Monday at orgjunkie.com

Saturday: Tara’s Meat Lasagna; Caesar salad
It’s actually Kate’s meat lasagna, but my wonderful cousin Tara brought us over a dish of it when we first moved to Burnaby and I loved it. It has all the delicious cheesiness of my MIL’s lasagna, but it takes 3/4s of the time to make. It is a great way to use up the ricotta & cream cheese bits I have leftover from other cooking endeavors before they go green.

Sunday: Roast Beef; Rice & Peas; Popovers; Green Peas; Gravy
This was my mother’s day gift to myself – one of my favourite meals! Last time I made Jamaican rice & peas I made sure to do the full recipe, which easily serves 8+ people. I used my mum’s roast recipe, which mostly involves forgetting it for three hours, and popovers are super easy with my magic bullet to make the batter. And I like to make one giant batch of gravy and then freeze it into small portions. Long story short, this meal was a no brainer to prepare & was exactly what I was looking for.

Monday: Bacon-wrapped steaks; steak fries; roasted asparagus; sautéed mushrooms with garlic Steak and fries is one of our favourite weeknight meals right now. We love the chunky steak cut fries and cooking up steaks takes no time and no effort. I like to pan-sear them on a high heat and then sauté mushrooms & garlic around them. Easy peasy.

Tuesday: Leftover Pot Roast Stroganoff; broccoliYes, I’m still upcycling Sunday Roast leftovers. This is my first time doing a beef stroganoff, since we usually do pork, but my mum made one a while back that was spicy & delicious so I’m going to give it a go even tho’ I usually dislike beef in creamy sauces. We shall see.

Wednesday: Lemony Chicken Orzo Soup & CornbreadThe soup takes little effort to make from scratch but this week we’re just heating up leftovers. I can whip together cornbread in no time so it will be an easy & tasty meal.

Thursday: Cuban Sandwiches; fries; sauteed kaleCubans are such a great way to use up leftover roast pork when there’s not a lot leftover. And my mum had come by with a giant ham on her last visit, so I snuck a few pieces off to make Cubans with. These will be melty & hot & a wonderful boost of fresh made fast food to get us over the Thursday blahs.

Friday: Pizza night!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Our Quest for a Parish -- some thoughts on the TLM & why I love Dominicans

Moving back to Canada, especially moving to a metropolis, has brought with it all the fun & frustrations of finding a new parish to call home. In Greater Vancouver there are too many choices and unfortunately none are within walking distance of our home. This is the first time in ten years that I haven’t lived within reasonable walking distance of a parish and it is rather frustrating at times – more on that later.

Because we aren’t within walking distance of a Catholic Church, we had to approach the whole “find a new parish” question a bit differently. Did we go with a parish in our city? A parish in our transit zone? A parish near the sky train? Or do we seek out a longer commute for a unique parish community?

The initial answer when we moved here was the last one. Over the years my fondness for Latin has developed into a love of the Latin Mass, both the ordinary & extraordinary! In Cambridge we often attended the 9am Latin Mass at our dear Fisher House, and when we went to Berlin it made sense for us to attend the nearby Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) parish as we had an easier time with the Latin than we would’ve with the German. So when I reminded David that Vancouver boasts a TLM parish, he thought that would be a good place to start our search for a parish.

If you ever get me started on the Latin Mass I could probably bend your ear for a good hour or so. It really carries the dignitas that I believe is fitting for the Mass. After all, Christ is coming to us in the flesh – our worship should be a fitting reflection of that blessed miracle. I’ve written elsewhere about why I wear a head covering and perhaps one day I’ll write about why I love altar rails (in short – it means those of us with bad knees can still kneel to receive Holy Communion). Because the TLM is relatively rare, we are often blessed with the best of the best when it comes to liturgy & music. These are communities offering all their talents in creating something beautiful and worthy, communities formed with a real commitment to the beauty & sanctity of the Mass. I don’t believe that this is only possible in TLM parishes, in fact I know from personal experience that it’s not, but the reality is that not every church has the willing resources/enthusiasm/encouragement to make this happen. Yes, it is in Latin. No, that doesn’t mean you need to have studied Latin extensively to get it. There are always handy little books with translations into English (or German or Spanish or Cantonese). And the homily is, get this, in the vernacular. And if you can manage “amen” and “et cum spiritu tuo” you’ve got down most of the responses right there. See, I’ve just made you into an instant expert.

Our experiences at Holy Family were, for the most part, wonderful. The community was so welcoming of our whole family and the parish is full of children so the antics of two more restless toddlers were mere drops in the pond. I found that the older children at the parish were very helpful & polite and that there was a nice level of sympathy & commiseration between all of the mothers (and some fathers!) who ended up spending most of the Mass trying to quiet their restless/active/tantruming children in the back. It is the only parish I have been to where I have felt that my children’s age-appropriate behavior was just that – age appropriate, expected, and understood. It’s not that other parishes I’ve attended are anti-child by any means, but I suppose it’s just that the sheer numbers of young families at Holy Family meant that young families/large families were in the majority. After Mass there was always a lunch & social time in the hall, and on any special feast days there was a potluck. It’s a rare treat to see a parish that is so connected as a community.

There is a streak of ultra-conservatism present among some of the people attracted to TLM that I’m not comfortable with, but to be fair there is a streak of ultra-liberalism among some of the people attracted to some regular parishes so you just have to sort the wheat from the chaff... At times it was frustrating running up against certain attitudes, especially from certain people who really should know better, so my heart wasn’t 100% happy. I loved the community, loved the liturgy, but worried about some of the attitudes we’ve run across. Can I stress again that this isn’t a TLM problem? It’s a people problem , an education problem perhaps, and it’s something we could’ve, would’ve, continued to work past. Unfortunately it was taking us over an hour to commute to Mass and until recently Sunday was the first day of my weekend, meaning that I was inevitably exhausted on Sunday morning and getting out the door at 9:30 was hard. It also rains a really absurd amount here and we don’t have a car, and getting to the church was a rather long journey of train & bus transfers. Mass attendance was dropping worryingly low.

It was time to find an interim solution. We started off by heading one city over to a parish in New Westminster. The plus side was that the church was just off of the train line we live near. The down sides were its position on top of a ridiculously steep hill and its possible leanings towards that airy-fairy-“spirit of Vatican II” culture that I’d already had enough of when we left BC in 2006 (it seems to be endemic in this part of our fair country).

Back to the drawing board, or more specifically the Google Map board. There was another parish on our train line, although it was one zone over (which in mercenary terms means that it costs twice as much to get there Mon-Fri before 6:30pm). The downside is that it is huge, although we’ve been cultivating a pride in how large the parish is. To give an idea, there is a Mass every 2-3 hours from sunrise to sunset on Sunday, and even with the large sanctuary & balcony & crying room it is still standing room only at every Mass. It is difficult to find a place in such a large community, especially given our limited free time, but in time, in time... and at least with so many Masses on Sundays it is a lot easier to go even when Sunday morning isn’t working.

The biggest plus for me about this parish is that it is run by Dominicans. Cambridge certainly inspired me with a love for Dominicans, and the preaching at St Mary’s has not disappointed (Fr Gabe!). It even got the seal of approval from my [Baptist] mother. The music may be a little more modern than I am naturally attracted to, but the choir is good nonetheless. It’s not overflowing with large young families, but it has its fair share of noisy toddlers & babies, meaning that mine aren’t the only ones causing shenanigans, and Fr Gabe in particular has always gone out of his way to make young families, us, feel welcome. And on more mundane notes, we can get there & back again on one ticket if we rush AND there is a Tim Horton’s coffee shop less than three minutes from the church!

David & I still discuss our parish options. We’ve moved to new cities so many times that I know it’s not a simple matter of finding a parish and sticking to it. It would be different if we lived within walking distance of one, but as we don’t I feel we have some flexibility to look around. We both miss attending the TLM, but there are the practicalities to consider. Right now I am mostly just grateful that we have the options of amazing liturgy & fantastic preaching in the Archdiocese of Vancouver. The rest will sort itself out in time.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Our Liturgical Year -- Part II

Continuing the recap of how we try to follow our Church's feasts & fasts with two toddlers underfoot. You can find Part I over here.

I will be covering off our 2014 Christmas celebrations in a separate post, but this is the rough idea. There’s always lots going on between December 22nd (David’s birthday) & January 7th (Ukrainian Christmas) so it’s a fun couple of weeks:
  •  we always go to a Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve and do dinner out/take away to keep the day low on stress & rushing. 
  •  we bake a birthday cake for Baby Jesus. The children decorate it and on Christmas Day we sing Happy Birthday & blow out candles. This is something my parents always did with me and I love it. 
I'm pretty sure this is around the time they discovered that the sprinkles were delicious.
  •  we celebrate the Feast of Christmas until January 7th. The Feast of the Epiphany (Wisemen visiting Jesus) is the end of the 12 Days of Christmas, but I also like to do a nod to my Ukrainian heritage by celebrating Ukrainian Christmas on January 7th. 
Cabbage rolls, perogies, sausage, & pickles. Could it get any better?
  •  Santa fills stockings & we all get presents to help Baby Jesus celebrate His birthday. Because the children are so little I’ve found that they have an easy time understanding that Baby Jesus is having a birthday party but because He loves them He is giving them presents, instead of just receiving presents. 
With no good place to hang stockings, and no nice stocking to hang anyway, we went the gumboot route.
40 days of penance, fasting, & abstinence. As the children grow I hope to include more family prayers etc, but right now less is more for small attention spans and it seems this year we have definitely marked the season out as different.
  •  Shrove Tuesday will forever be “pancake day” in my mind thanks to our years in Cambridge. Even the pubs served pancakes! So we make sure that we have pancakes for a meal or for dessert that day.
Crepes with a homemade chocolate orange filling. She was a happy baby. 
  •  My children love singing “alleluia”, so this year I printed off an “alleluia” colouring page which they coloured in. We then had a procession through the house, singing alleluia. Then we “buried” it in the closet, where it’s staying until Easter, at which point it will come out & stay on their bedroom door. They’ve fallen in line with the liturgy & there are no alleluias to be sung in this house until Easter. I’ve had many a good laugh at hearing them remind whomever lapses – usually a “no alleluia, Baby Annie, no alleluia” from Walter or a “no ‘leu-ya” from Annie. 
A brief moment of team work. 
  • Ash Wednesday we go to Mass and everyone gets a cross. We wear ours all day, and again it’s something that I find is a good point of conversation. 
  •  Us grownups have our various Lenten sacrifices & fasts, but for the kids we’ve stuck with the “no alleluias” and it is working really well this year. 
  •  We have a “Lenten path” colouring page on our fridge. We colour in one square each evening and see how close we’re getting to Easter. It’s been a big hit & Walter loves showing it off to anyone who comes over. 
How our pathway looked on Holy Saturday
  • We’ll be taking down/veiling all of our religious images & statues as we get closer to Holy Week. (in theory. This year that proved to be one thing too much!)
Holy Week is really difficult with two small children. The Masses are beautiful, but long, and with two children there’s not much chance of getting through the Easter Vigil. It’s a major sacrifice for me to give up these Masses, but for family harmony I need to let go – it makes the whole celebration a lot more stressful otherwise. When they are old enough to sit through the Vigil I think we’ll turn it into a special rite of passage. It’s a beautiful, ancient liturgy and so very special, but it does go on for 2-3 hours and that is so hard with toddlers. One of the blogs I read suggested trying to do something at home to mark the events of each day (Last Supper, Crucifixion, etc) and I am going to have a think about that, because I think it will make it a little more meaningful for the children. But I haven’t figured all that out yet. What I do know:

  • We’ll all be making Easter baskets, which will be filled & ready for morning on Easter Sunday. A little chocolate, candy, small toy, & their new Easter clothes will go a long way to spreading some extra joy that morning!
It ended up being evening since their Baba wanted to be there to watch them open their baskets. It was a lot of fun!
  • Easter Eggs will be dyed. Nothing fancy but still a lot of messy fun. They were really proud of their eggs last year
A bonus for me -- my mum took the eggs home with her so I didn't have to figure out what to do with a dozen hard boiled eggs (ok, it wouldn't have been hard -- salad lyonaise is the obvious answer)
  • Alleluias will ring loud & clear, and so will the Easter music.
  • We celebrate Easter for eight weeks, until Pentecost. So, family visits & dinners, a few extra treats, and a lot of excitement.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Our Little Liturgical Year -- Part I

One thing that I really enjoy about these early years of being a mum is building our family traditions. There is such a wealth to draw on between childhood memories, the different cultures we’ve been exposed to, and our faith traditions.

The liturgical year, as we practice it as Catholics, fits with the rhythm of the seasons. Advent, that great period of longing, waiting, & preparation comes in those last few weeks of winter when the nights are darkest, and at Christmas we welcome the infant Christ, light of the world, while we notice the slight lightening of the evenings after the Winter Solstice. Easter falls with the first rush of spring, especially here, and the little buds sprouting on empty branches or the green shoots pushing up amongst the brown sludge of winter’s remains provide the perfect setting to meditate on death, life, & rebirth. Aside from these four longish periods in our year there are all the little feasts & solemnities to celebrate, a way weaving our family life into the greater life of the Church. This year, for example, I am going to find a way for us to start marking the Feast of St Anthony, our family’s patron saint.

Of course, being a busy mum of two toddlers it is necessary to retain some reality & prudence when marking out our feasts & fasts. The children are keen to join in with activities, but they have little attention spans & very big propensities for making messes & distractions. There is always a lot that I can accomplish in my imagination, but I’ve found that a less-is-more approach works the best right now. There will always be time to build on our activities as they grow. I know that these are just quick & little ideas, but I’ve found that even a small change in routine is enough to inspire toddlers with excitement & interest. It’s the first step to teaching them to let their faith alter how they live their lives, and it gives us a really fun way to interact as a family.

The Smallest Scale:

Every Sunday is for feasting! I’ve noticed that the Catholic world really loves the post-Mass doughnut, and there is usually no exception in this house (or at least the post-Mass banana muffin for the smallest members of the family). The children aren’t yet involved in dinner too much, because the things I make aren’t high on the toddler approval list, but I do try to shake up their regular eating routine as well & do something fun when I can. David & I usually indulge in some form of Sunday Roast (a great British tradition that I’ve been happy to bring back to Canada—the leftovers are repurposed into another meal or two for following weeks) and I’ve been documenting this on Instragram under #wias (What I Ate Sunday).

The opposite of Sunday, every Friday is for penance as we mark the weekday of Christ’s crucifixion & death. Like the majority of our fellow Catholics, we abstain from meat on this day. We are out in the world enough that it often does feel like a sacrifice – my office’s cafeteria always seems to smell like bacon all day on Friday and there are enough special events involving food on Fridays that it is not always the easy road to take. But I like doing something that allows us to live our faith without having to make a big showy deal of it -- and it certainly has prompted a few conversations with people who know that we regularly are happy to be carnivores. I also think it’s important as a reminder of how lucky we are to be able to choose not to eat meat, rather than having that choice thrust upon us by poverty. Of course, Friday is also our family fun night, so we’ve tried to find a way to incorporate that in—most Fridays we make pizza from scratch. It’s something fun we can do together and which can be easily tweaked to include meat for some but not all when non-Catholic friends & family join us for the evening.


The Catholic world has a gamut of different things to do to celebrate Advent at home. It’s a season of repentance & preparation, that time of great longing when we realise how much we need salvation & wait to welcome Christ at Christmas. In our house:

  • David is allowed to start playing Christmas music on the First Sunday of Advent, but we don’t put any decorations up until Gaudete Sunday (the third Sunday of Advent)
  • This year we celebrated the Feast of St Nicholas with chocolate Santas & Christmas pajamas. The kids put their shoes on the window for St Nicholas to fill. We have a little talk about who St Nicholas is and about how he is going to bring presents to help us celebrate Jesus’ birthday:
Sneaking into their room to put presents on the windowsill while they slept was no small feat!
  • We have been transient for so long that investing in an advent wreath hasn’t seemed prudent. Thus a family tradition was born – each year we make our advent wreath. Ideally we forage on a nature walk for winter greenery with which to weave it, but this year the pickings seemed a bit sparse (although next year I know where to harvest my holly!) so we hit up the dollar store. We aren’t always great with remembering to light the candles, since toddlers + fire are not the best combination and it can be difficult to find a good place to keep the wreath lit, but the kids are always excited to be involved in the project and really love lighting the candles & saying the prayers.
"Ducks", bows, and bells -- Can you tell that toddlers picked these decorations?
We can enjoy fire when Baby Annie's contained. Walter kept telling me that it was hot. 
  • chocolate filled Advent Calendars to help us count the days until Baby Jesus’ birthday party.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Annie's 1st Birthday

My darling chuffle-bug,

It seems so hard to believe that you are already one. I sure understand why the babies in the family always get babied. You are still so small & precious, even if you’re turning into a toddler at an alarming rate.

Your birthday morning
When I look at you, it’s hard to believe that you were such a tiny, helpless little thing such a short time ago. I still remember holding you all night in the hospital, trying to warm you back up after your UV treatment. These days you are often too busy to sit for a hug, but I know not to worry about that too much – once you learn that the world will always be there to explore I know you’ll be ready to cuddle again.

You are such a funny little girl. You like to dress up in ribbons, bows, & fancy dresses but it is often pot-luck as to whether a stranger will get one of your beautiful smiles or a goblin-growl when they compliment you. Perhaps you’re just tired of hearing about what beautiful eyes you have! You are a very determined little girl and you like to believe that you’re in charge. When we displease you, you try to smack us & shout, but then either immediately apologise or run off telling us “no Annie, no Annie!”

You are very good at talking and can express your desires with little trouble. You pretend mischief more than you actually cause it. You love to sit & read books and to play with your baby dolls & stuffed animals, although you’re happy to drive trucks & trains whenever Walter is not looking. You are a complete & total daddy’s girl, although when it comes to drinking milk & having snugggles in the middle of the night only mummy will do.

There is so much less worrying with a second baby. It has been a delight to be able to relax and enjoy your baby ways while we get to know you. Walter adores you, when he's not fighting with you, and names the prettiest character on all his shows "Baby Annie". You are a special, special little precious, a bundle of sweetness & light, and we cannot imagine life without you.



And a few shots from Annie's Afternoon Tea Garden Party:

Nana pulled out a selection of her finest china for us to use!

Bunny cakes!

Your ladybug pendant, all the way from Israel

Monday, 12 January 2015

What I meant to say on our anniversary (August 7th wasn't that long ago, right?)

I began penning this on our four year anniversary. I’d been up since somewhere around 3am. First the baby woke me up. Then, just as I was falling back asleep, David woke me up with his coughing & blanket scrounging. Summer colds – no fun for anyone. By 5am I figured I might as well give up on trying to get back to sleep, since the wee sma’s always give me terrible anxiety if I’m laying awake trying to sleep.

I’ve reckoned it up: 4 years married, in which we lived in 3 different countries, had 2 babies, and completed 1 PhD. As David jokingly reminded someone yesterday, we’ve been living out of suitcases for the past five years. So I’ve summed up the past four years as “not easy, but worth it”.

And now it’s quarter to ten at night on our anniversary. My plan for the day – let David sleep in until 10 or 11 and then get him to watch the kids while I took a nap. We’d have a nice relaxing day at home and then head into town for an early supper with Deacon Harrison, Walter’s Godfather, in order to celebrate Walter’s recent birthday. I’d come home refreshed & relaxed and spend part of the evening finding the perfect balance of romance & reality for this post.

In actual fact, I spent the majority of the day at the hospital. David woke up seriously ill. I drove him to the hospital and helped him check in to Emerg, then drove off with the kids to find lunch, then drove back to find out what was up, and then waited with two well behaved but not easy kids. And then it turns out that David has double pneumonia....

This brings me back around to where my thoughts were heading this morning, when I couldn’t find the words to say what I wanted to. I wanted to sell you, and my future self, the idea that with the right person marriage is easy. That with the right person at your side, you can fight the good fight & weather the storm without really having to deal with the messiness of reality. That good communication means always making the right decision & never struggling. I wanted to look back at these past four years of marriage, these past ten years together, and say YES – life is perfect and has always been perfect and will always be perfect because we are together.

That’s not reality. Reality is that marriage, like most of the things worth having in life, is a battle, and it seems to be that we either choose to fight with each other or to unite & fight against the world. And it’s messy and it’s hard and it’s not always easy and it’s so much far from the perfection I aspire to. That’s the price we pay for daring to experience life rather than observe it.

Even with all the struggles & difficulties & uncertainties & sleepless nights, we manage to have fun. We’re always going out on adventures and we’ve never let anything stop us from enjoying our time together. We share our love of books & music & movies. I never thought I’d find someone whose interests so closely aligned with mine. I’m sure David never thought he’d manage to find someone who actually enjoyed living in a sea of books & records (we’re never short of things to read or listen to!). We usually understand each other’s sense of humour & our views on religion, politics, & family life are pretty close.

It’s been over ten years since our first date and there are still surprises. There is still that necessity to learn to balance two similar but different personalities: introvert & extrovert, literal & hyperbolic, sense & sensibility...

I’ve been short on words to newlyweds lately. My life has just seemed a bit too difficult & depressing to want to burden those starting on their hopeful voyage with my doses of hard reality. But I think, if anything, I would tell my newlywed friends to stay strong & committed to the promises they made. The hard times will come & go & come again and they are not a sign of failure. They are just the inevitable price we pay for choosing to live.

The picture is almost a year old and it's the best I could do for one of both of us sans-children. Oops!