Iris in Bloom

Our iris started blooming right on May 1, and haven’t finished yet.

As usual, the mauve made their appearance first. This cluster has about wound down.

The yellow followed soon after, and are still going strong. While the mauve are putting out a couple of flowers per stalk, the yellows all have at least four large blooms per stalk. They’re almost luminous in the early morning light.

I have a couple of clumps with leaves, but no sign of flowers yet–those might be the white with purple edging. They were comparatively late last year, so I still have hope.

Three Weeks, Three Sacrament Receptions

It’s been a little bit of a grace-filled whirlwind the past three weeks. Three of our kids received sacraments (as well as most of my religious ed students).

Our oldest, Yakum, received the Sacrament of Confirmation about three weeks ago. There wasn’t a whole lot I had to do on this one since she goes to Catholic school, and we bought her a dress for the occasion. It turned out that the dress wasn’t quite the required length (it almost, but not quite, bisected her kneecap), so she sewed on an extra tier of tulle to the bottom hem of the skirt lining. Our pastor usually gives a good homily, and he did an excellent job on this occasion. Overall, a great, grace-filled event.

Tertia and Quarta, the twins, received their First Holy Communion on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. No particular reason for that day beyond just scheduling. Again, they’re at Catholic school, so I didn’t need to do the preparation. They, on the other hand, wanted me to make their dresses. Yakum actually came up with the sketch, in consultation with the twins. A simple bodice with a zipper in the back and full circle skirts. The original sketch had lace at the cuffs and tulle on the hem. Quarta added the lace collar.

I’m pretty pleased with how the sleeves came out, especially getting the lace on the cuffs.

Again, the pastor did an excellent job with the homily, linking the Gospel (Mt 13:54-58, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place”) to the danger of letting the Eucharist become routine and losing sight of the sheer miracle of receiving the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Finally, I’ll note that in between these two events, most of my religious ed students received their confirmation (and in a couple of cases, finished out their Sacraments of Initiation). It’s been a whirlwind of grace (and we’re not even to Pentecost yet!). If you can, keep all those who have received or are receiving sacraments this Easter season in your prayers.

Rooting/Uprooting

In preparation for our next overseas assignment, I’ve been doing some landscaping. Actually, it started last fall when we had the black locust tree taken out of our front yard. While we were sad to see it go, it was starting to rot from the inside so we had it taken out on our time, rather than when it decided to drop.

Around the tree we had what could generously be called a flower bed. Not much grew there (directly under the tree, and in pretty much full shade), but a peony stuck it out, and we could often coax some annuals to sprout and sometimes flower. Given that the tree was essentially acting as a front fence, we needed something, so in late winter I put in a couple of witch hazel bushes (which are native to the area, and look really cool when they bloom). I am happy to report that they finally took off and are doing well. My next trick will be to coax the branches to start growing into a live fence, rather than straight up.

Surprisingly, the peony survived the disturbance of the tree removal and seems to be doing well. We’ve got buds already, much earlier than in previous years (because of the increased sun). I threw down some flower seeds to see if we can get some annuals to do more than put out an anemic bloom or two.

To balance all that planting, I did have to take out the sweet shrub (or Carolina allspice). One, it was in the way of the rock wall and two, it was way to large for the space. I had to prune it back a couple of times a year, and it was still taking over everything. Also, given its habit of suckering, it would have been a giant mess in a couple of years. I also still need to take one clump of tulips out of the middle of the yard and put it in the front flower bed so that we can actually mow in the spring.

No pictures yet (it isn’t that interesting at the moment) but things are definitely shaping up into a respectable front yard–just in time for us to pack up and leave. Such is life.

A Very Determined Bird

With the start of spring, birds are building their nests. How do I know? A song sparrow tried to build a nest in our dryer vent this weekend.

Our dryer vent cover is a fairly inexpensive plastic one with three louvers that will swing up when the dryer is exhausting air, but stay down (and keep the opening covered) when it isn’t running. A few months back, the louver in the middle cracked and fell off, leaving a fairly large opening. I didn’t think much of it, beyond noting that I’ll need to replace it. And, up until yesterday, that was about it.

Yesterday, though, a sparrow decided it would be the ideal place for a nest. I guess the opening is just about the right size and it’s pretty well protected. My first indication something was wrong was that a load of clothes didn’t dry the way it should have. My second indication was hearing noises of wings and bird claws in the vent itself. I peeked out the laundry room door and saw nesting material sticking out of the opening. I pulled it out, and went on with another load of laundry, which dried like normal. The load after that? Still damp, and sure enough, the start of another nest. After cleaning out the vent again, I put some wire mesh over the opening (about a 3/4″ grid, so not like mosquito or window screen), and went on with the laundry.

End of story? Nope, not yet. I didn’t secure it well enough, so the bird was able to get in and out and build yet another nest. I cleaned this one out today and duct taped the mesh in place. This home repair item has just moved up in priority. Fortunately, I know I was able to clean out all the nesting material because the dryer vent duct comes down from the ceiling before the bend for the outside, so unless the bird used a ramrod to pack things in, I should be set. Still, a thorough vacuuming once I get the new vent cover will definitely be in order.

Ah, spring!

Signs of Spring

After a nearly non-existent winter that went out with a couple of ice storms, Spring seems to be making itself known. To whit:

The birds are starting their morning songs at 4:00am or earlier.

The afternoon sun has hit just the right angle so that there’s a fantastic sunbeam lounging spot for Benson on top of the refrigerator. It also means he can lounge up there and pounce down when it’s time for his dinner.

We planted lettuce, radish, carrot, and beet seeds in our small garden. We’re probably actually a little on the late side, but with the really cold temperatures (ref the ice storms) it didn’t quite seem like the right time until yesterday. Ikinji, Tertia, and Thumbkin were very enthusiastic about getting the seeds in the ground, and I think they’ll be able to take on most of the watering, weeding, and harvesting duties. Well, at least Ikinji and Tertia.

Crocus are starting to bloom in our front yard:

Yes, we have random crocus in the front yard. They come from an earlier iteration of the landscaping that included a rock path and patches of flowers. Or at least, that was the idea; it never actually looked like much. Over the last two years we’ve worked to get the grass filled in and most of the random flowers out. The crocus, though, since they come up so early, have gotten to stay.

Time to start getting out and enjoying the sun more before this all-to-short season turns into one of the DC area’s stifling summers.

The Joyful Mysteries-A Meditation for Lent?

Over the course of the week before Lent started, I began to think about the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary and how they pertain to Lent. It certainly isn’t the usual association, since the Joyful Mysteries, which include the Nativity, is associated with Advent and Christmas for obvious reasons, while the Sorrowful Mysteries all take place from Holy Thursday through Good Friday. Still, it strikes me as an interesting reflection. Part of what spurred the thinking was an Ash Wednesday homily from a couple of years ago in which the priest commented that the fact that on Ash Wednesday, which is not a day of obligation, masses are more crowded than on some holy days of obligation reflects our understanding that something is not right in our relationship with God, and we look for ways to fix it and to be closer to Him.

The Joyful Mysteries can be thought of as searching for God. With the Annunciation, Mary gave her consent to bring the Messiah into the world–the Messiah for whom the entire world was waiting. At the Visitation, Mary sought out her cousin Elizabeth, who, under the influence of God’s grace, recognized Mary to be the Mother of the Savior–again, Elizabeth was seeking, and found, God. Of course, with the Nativity we have Jesus’ birth, and the whole Gospel narrative of the shepherds, Magi, and yes, even Herod, seeking Jesus. In the Presentation, Joseph and Mary sought to fulfill God’s command, while Simeon and Anna got to see the Savior for whom they had waited. Finally, with the Finding in the Temple, we see Mary and Joseph (in some ways standing in for all of us), looking for Jesus and finding Him in His Father’s house.

In parallel fashion, Lent is about searching for God via the road of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Mary was conceived without sin, and was therefore fit to be the Mother of God; likewise, through our Lenten discipline we aim to strengthen ourselves against temptation and therefore be fit to be with our Savior in Heaven. Elizabeth was open to the stirrings of the Holy Spirit and was able to recognize Mary as the Mother of God; in a similar way, through Lent we seek to get rid of the things that crowd out the Holy Spirit so that we can recognize, and respond to God’s grace. Instead of seeking Jesus in a stable, in Lent we look for him on the road to Calvary and the Cross. God calls us to repent and do penance as part of fulfilling his commands, with Lent being a particularly focused time for this discipline so that we can see the Savior and go in peace (as did Simeon and Anna). Finally, we know that Jesus is present in the tabernacle, and the Lenten call to increased prayer is another way to find Him in His Father’s House.

It may not be the standard line of thinking, and, admittedly, the Presentation is a bit of a stretch, but I at least find it a useful meditation.

Benson was Right

Back towards the start of Fall, Benson went on rodent alert. Well, he was right. The cold snap of a couple of weeks ago drove at least two mice indoors, and Benson was definitely on the job.

Early one morning, I thought I heard the characteristic skittering sounds in the walls, in the vicinity of the refrigerator. It went away, so I didn’t think any more of it until a little later that morning when Benson was camped out staring at the refrigerator. I heard the noise again, so knew he was in hunting mode. The fridge sits in a little alcove, so Benson couldn’t get around the side or to the back. He looked up at me, and I pulled the refrigerator out to let him get to the back. Either the mouse was scared stiff by the sudden movement of his shelter, or he was slow. Benson caught him and carried the wee beastie into the dining room. By offering lots of cat treats, we managed to convince Benson to drop the mouse so I could put a container over it. My wife and the two youngest took the mouse to a far-off field, likely to turn into a fox’s snack.

A couple of days later, we came home from Mass, and Benson was pawing at something under a chair. This is somewhat uncharacteristic since usually when we come home from Mass he’s taking his mid-morning snooze on one of the beds (in a sunbeam, if he can find it). I looked a little closer and saw a small ball of fur–mouse number two. This one was definitely a lot slower (possibly Benson had already been playing with it for a while), so I got a container over it to take it outside. Again, off to a different field to either make a nest in the wild, or turn into wildlife food.

Benson keeps looking for rodents, but I haven’t seen or heard any additional evidence recently. Still, every so often he looks at the fridge, then at me as if to say “the mouse dispenser is broken.”

January Birthdays

Duckling Number Six shares a birthday month with both her mother and her maternal grandmother. It’s a good thing all the birthdays fall within the Carnival season (that is, before Lent).

My wife was craving chocolate and orange for her birthday. I made this chocolate olive oil cake from Smitten Kitchen. I doubled it to make two layers and subbed in orange juice concentrate for half the liquid (plus a couple of drops of orange extract). I wound up underbaking it some, so the layers were fall-apart tender, but wow, it was like a chocolate truffle. That, and the quick cream cheese icing made for a phenomenal birthday celebration. Given the fall-apart tenderness, it wasn’t much to look at, so no pictures, but my wife is considering asking for a repeat next year.

Duckling Number Six got a tres leches cake for her first birthday (the recipe I use comes from The Pioneer Woman, but there isn’t a whole lot of variation in the recipes). We were able to share the morning with her godparents, and everyone, including the birthday girl, enjoyed the cake. Again, no pictures because it isn’t much to look at (and it’s hard to do any coherent decorating on straight whipped cream), but a bunch of happy campers.

We didn’t do cake for my mother-in-law, but did observe her birthday with some ice cream in her honor, as well as a phone call to sing Happy Birthday, as is the tradition.

Happy carnival to everyone (but remember, Lent is coming)!

God Provides

One thing I learned in 2020, or at least had reinforced, is that God provides. I’m not talking big miracle-type things (although it never hurts to ask for those). Rather, just some small signs that God will provide what we truly need, both the big and the little.

Virginia went on its initial lockdown in mid-March (just before March 17, if I remember right), so a couple of weeks before Holy Week. By the time holy week was approaching, we had hit the rhythm of watching a streamed mass, then going to our church to visit the Blessed Sacrament. It kept the Sunday flow as close to normal as we could. So the first way we were provided for in this example is that our pastor kept the church open for private prayer–it was never closed. Masses canceled, yes, and occupancy limits as well, but never closed. The week before Palm Sunday, we went to the church as usual. After we had exited the church, but still on the grounds, our pastor noticed us and another woman and popped his head out of his room in the rectory and explained that they wouldn’t be able to distribute palms (or have pick up your own) because of the health/sanitary restrictions as they understood them. The other woman had brought a branch, and he blessed it from his second story window. He also let us know that they had just dumped the palms they had ordered (far in advance), and they might still be in the dumpster. Sure enough, they were. After a brief dumpster dive, we had our palms. They weren’t blessed by a priest, but we had them for Holy Week. A small comfort amid the confusion, but a comfort nonetheless.

Fast forward to Advent. We often buy our Christmas tree from the Knights of Columbus, who sell as a fundraiser. This year, our council hosted their own sale, rather than teaming up with another nearby parish. Great. We usually wait until just before Christmas to buy ours, and it goes up on the 24th (and often decorated on the 25th). Since we’ll be back overseas in 2021, I decided we should buy the biggest one we could find whenever we went. This year, the trees went very quickly. We missed a shot after a Sunday Mass (because we had something else going on), but later in the week my wife noticed there were only a few trees left. We contacted the Knights and they were able to meet us right after school so we could buy one of the remainders before they donated them somewhere. There were three left–two small (3ft or so) and one in the 7-8ft range. The big one wasn’t very full or very wide, but it was the biggest, so we went for it. Once we got it home (pulling it in our wagon, to my wife’s delight) and put it up, it fit the spot we had set for it perfectly. Any wider and it wouldn’t have fit, any taller and we’d have lost branches at the bottom. Again, a small thing, nothing significant or life changing, but a comfort.

So, if God provides in small things, He certainly provides in the large. Once we place our trust in Him, we just have to keep our eyes open for the ways He shows us His love.