First Sunday of Lent

In the Extraordinary Form, the Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent relates when Jesus went into the desert and was tempted by the devil (Matt. 4:1-11).  In the homily, our priest focused in on the second temptation, where the devil challenges Jesus to throw himself from the top of the temple in Jerusalem to prove that He is the Son of God.  Jesus replies that scripture states not to put God to the test.

Usually, this temptation and reply is taught pretty straight on:  the temptation we have is to test God at every turn, such as “If I do this, You do that” or, “If You want me to do this, give me a sign” or, even worse, “I won’t believe unless You show me You exist.”  Of course, scripture teaches us not to put God, the all-perfect, all-loving being to the test.  He will do what is best for us if we let him, and demanding signs is not usually the best way of going about it.

Rather than going this route, our priest took a different approach.  He noted that the temptation on face seems sort of silly:  why would throwing yourself off a building be a temptation for most people?  Food, power (the subjects of the other two temptations), sure, but plunging to almost certain death?  Not so much.  Instead of the straightforward temptation to test God, what the devil was really offering was the chance to avoid the crucifixion.  If Jesus were to jump from the top of the temple in Jerusalem, and be carried by angels, the people would see and know that he was the Messiah without needing to go through the Passion.  The devil, as always, was offering the seemingly easy way out–Jesus gets to be the Messiah without dying.  However, without the Passion and death, there is no remission of sins.  Without the resurrection, Heaven remains sealed shut.  Jesus, of course, rejects this offer, and goes through with his work of salvation of souls.

I had never thought of it this way.  For one, I hadn’t thought that the people of Jerusalem could have seen Jesus and the devil in dialogue, that they were somehow shielded from sight.  Second, the straightforward reading is, well, straightforward and still worth thinking about though that lens.  This reading, on the other hand, it quite a bit richer in meaning, and encourages us to embrace fully Jesus’ suffering because without it, we cannot be saved.  If Jesus gave Himself fully for our sake, all we can do is give ourselves back fully to God, trusting that he, in His infinite, incomprehensible love, will take care of us, and yes, send His angels to minister to us even, or especially, when things are hard–even if we don’t recognize God’s aid at the time.



Forty Octopus Legs

Yakum and Ikinji’s school is putting on Disney’s Little Mermaid Jr. (I think I got all the required parts in that title…) for their annual musical.  Both Yakum and Ikinji decided to participate this year.  Of course, this requires parental volunteers to pitch in and do various things, like chaperone at rehearsals, and make sets, props, and costumes.  I volunteered to help out with costumes, and selected the octopus costumes.


38, 39, 40.

The woman in charge of costumes had printed several ideas from Pinterest, and the one that was built on a hoodie seemed the easiest.  In essence, eight legs hanging from the bottom of the hoodie, with eyes attached to the hood.  Simple!  Well…until I got creative and saw the Instructable DIY Octopus Costume that gets you curly legs.  Bingo!  Curly legs attached to the hoodie should look great in the big “Under the Sea” production number, and make for an easy costume change.DSC06810

So, not actually all that hard.  Just tedious.  Everyone got in on stuffing the legs (it was a great rainy afternoon activity), but five costumes times eight legs is a lot of legs to sew, stuff, and attach.  The fiddliest part was adding the strip of silver fabric (a polyester lining that was on sale at JoAnn’s) at the bottom hem of the hoodie to cover up where the legs all attached.  Attaching a woven to a knit is a challenge at


the best of times, let alone when you’re trying to insert eight stuffed legs on top of it.

The eyes are just felt, with the black pupil hot glued on, then sewn on the hood with a little stuffing to make them bulge some.  This was the easiest part.

So, forty legs later, and the pod of octopi is done.


A little creepy when they’re all together like this.

Since Ash Wednesday is coming up, I’m sure there’s a hymn parody in there somewhere, but the best I was able to come up with is “These forty legs of octopi/Finally are done!/For kids to dance and sing and play/In this year’s musical”

Candlemas: Celebrating Godparents

Friday (February 2) was Candlemas, which commemorates the presentation of Jesus in the Temple 40 days after His nativity, or the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary.  As a side note, the tradition in many countries is to wait until Candlemas to put away the nativity scene.  Our parish does this, as did the Nunciature in Turkmenistan (thanks to a Polish priest).  It’s a nice way to really close out the Christmas mystery and get ready for Lent (which is really right around the corner).

One day while praying the Rosary, it struck me that Candlemas is a chance to remember and celebrate the role Godparents play in our lives.  When Mary and Joseph went to present Jesus (found in Luke 2:22-40), they were going to fulfill the law of Moses, which they did.  On top of that, they met Simeon and Anna in the Temple.  Simeon had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah before his death.  He recognized Jesus as the Messiah and gave us the canticle recited every night at compline in the Liturgy of the Hours:

Nunc dimíttis servum tuum, Dómine,*
secúndum verbum tuum in pace,
quia vidérunt óculi mei*
salutáre tuum,
quod parásti*
ante fáciem ómnium populórum,
lumen ad revelatiónem géntium*
et glóriam plebis tuæ Israel.

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled,

My own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of every people:

a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.

Simeon also gave Mary the prophecy Jesus was destined to be “a sign of contradiction to many in Israel” that a sword would pierce her heart.

Anna, the widow prophetess who spent all her days in the Temple worshiping, also saw Jesus, gave thanks to God, and started to tell others that the redemption of Israel had come.

In a way, Simeon and Anna are godparents.  They are there at Jesus’ presentation, when he enters the Temple, the way baptism brings people into the Church (quite literally, when the building follows the traditional layout of the baptristy being outside the church itself).  Both of them serve as models of a holy life, and would have been well-versed in the Jewish faith, able to pass on their faith.

Even though Joseph and Mary didn’t need any additional support, what struck me was that God specifically put Simeon and Anna there in the Temple as an indication that godparents are important for both the child and the parents, as a necessary part of bringing someone into the Church.  That would also argue that you want to choos godparents carefully:  people who can pick up for you, teach your child the faith, and, yes, challenge you to be the best Christian you possibly can be.


Experimental Oven Pancakes

Since Yakum had an early basketball game this weekend, I changed up our Saturday pancake tradition and went with oven pancakes.  I was first introduced to these by my in-laws (before they were in-laws), where the German Oven Pancake breakfast is a very big deal.  They put on a phenomenal spread at my wife’s grandparents’ house, which includes the oven pancakes, cinnamon apples, and lots of other breakfast foods.

So, I certainly didn’t put on that level of a spread, but did play with the baking vessel.  Most recipes specify a cast iron skillet, and with good reason:  the cast iron guarantees a well-crisped crust develops, which contrasts with the buttery-custardy body of the pancake.  The challenge is in mass producing, which is difficult when you only have one cast iron skillet (and a relatively small one at that).  So, I doubled the recipe and put it in a well buttered 9×13 glass dish.  It worked beautifully, puffing way up and getting nicely crisp.










My next attempt was a single recipe, but baked in muffin tins to try for mini oven pancakes.  The challenge here is getting the right amount of butter in the bottom–you don’t want too much, otherwise it runs everywhere.  Not enough and the puff isn’t as good (and they stick like the dickens).  Not as successful, but I think this would work well with a tablespoon of cinnamon apples in the middle.  The hope is that the pancake would puff up around the filling, making serving easy.



Even though they deflate once you take them out of the oven, the real secret to getting them out of the tins is to let them rest at least 10 minutes.

Here’s the recipe I used, modified from Alton Brown, cross-referenced with a bunch of recipes and tips from multiple sources on the internet:

2.25 oz flour

.25 oz sugar (or less, and I tried putting in some molasses)

pinch of salt

4 oz milk (by weight–use a scale!  By volume, this is 1/2 cup)

3 eggs

2 oz butter

400 degree oven

Put butter in pan and put in oven to melt the butter–watch carefully so it doesn’t burn.  It should take just a couple of minutes. Take out of oven once melted.

Combine dry ingredients in mixing bowl (or a measuring cup if you have one large enough).  Beat eggs and add milk.  Pour wet on dry ingredients, and mix until smooth.  Pour in pan, and put back in oven.  In a 9 or 10 inch cast iron skillet, this will take about 20 minutes to bake up into a well-puffed oven pancake.  Doubled, and put in a 9×13, it also took 20 minutes.  The recipe made 18 muffin-tin pancakes, and only took 15 minutes.

Happy eating!

A New Place to Warm Up

Benson, being the tropical cat that he is, did not enjoy the cold we had recently.  I’m not sure how it was any different for him than normal, since he is an indoor cat, and our furnace is working just as well as always, but he was very clearly not pleased with the cold weather.

His normal places to stay warm are curled up on a bed (the kids’ loft beds are great because of the rising heat and he loves being up high anyway) or plopped in front of a heat register–the other night he was stretched out full-length in front of one so the hot air could ruffle through the fur on his belly.  He’ll even go so far as to curl up with Lavash if that’s the warmest place available.

He keeps on finding new places, though, to include this one:


“If I’m not supposed to be here, why is it so warm?”

Yep, the dishwasher.  He hopped in after the cycle had finished and I opened it up to let the dishes air dry.  The bottom rack was pulled out, so he could get to the nice and steamy-warm interior.  Fortunately, it hasn’t been quite as cold recently, so he hasn’t repeated this particular trick.  Instead, he’s settled for immediately finding my lap when I sit down, or waiting until I go to bed and laying on top of me so I can’t move.  Benson, on the other hand, seems perfectly comfy and warm, which I guess is the entire point for him.

Cross-Climate Bicycle Skills

The recent wintry blast on the East Coast has made me realize that bicycling in the tropics is a lot like bicycling in the winter (at least around here).  To wit:

  1. Pedaling through sand is a lot like trying to pedal through the drifts of rock salt the city dumped on a certain section of one of the bike paths.  I understand the desire to try and keep the area from freezing over entirely (due to utility access, more than from the desire to keep bicyclers and joggers safe), but drifts of rock salt three inches deep are just as treacherous to bike through as sand–if you don’t take it head on and keep going straight, you’ll skew sideways and likely take a tumble.
  2. Riding in a tropical rainstorm is just the same as riding in dense fog–you can’t see a thing, and your glasses get all spotted up.  Bonus points here for fogged up glasses, too.
  3. You have to know where the bumps and potholes are when there’s rain as well as when there’s snow/ice.  You can’t really see them in either case, and, at least in Liberia, you ran the serious risk of disappearing into a sinkhole, or at least bending a wheel.  Here, you’ll probably just have a pretty serious fall if you hit one of the holes or bumps wrong when there’s snow and ice.  In either case, if you know your road, you can sort of avoid this problem on autopilot.
  4. Car drivers freak out the first time the weather changes–even though rainy season comes every year, the way winter comes every year.  With the wild swings we’ve had this year in Virginia, drivers have had multiple rounds of freak out already.  Bikers beware.
  5. Finally, your co-workers and random observers think you’re nuts for riding in anything but clear weather.

Fluffy Colorado Snow

We took a very short trip to Colorado for Christmas.  We had a wonderful time with family and the usual holiday bustle.

One of the highlights was the white Christmas.  Yep, actual snow on the ground.  There was just barely enough for the kids to go sledding at their great-grandparents’ house that has a short, but fairly steep, hill in the back yard.  They had a great time.

The snow fell in giant, lazy flakes that took a long time to work their way from the sky to the ground.  They meandered in air currents before settling in lighter-than-air clouds on branches and bushes and carpeting the grass with a thick white blanket.  It was so light that if you looked at it wrong it floated away of the sidewalk and cars.  I exaggerate only a little:  My mother-in-law and I took to clearing the driveway with a pair of brooms, basically fanning the snow away, and this bagpiper’s lungs were able to blow the cars clear of snow in about 30 seconds.

They were some of the largest flakes I’d ever seen–probably an average of a quarter inch across, with some appearing closer to a half inch (sorry, I didn’t actually get a ruler out there to measure).  DSC06684DSC06687  Really a magical Christmasstime, capped off with the snow.

Shortest Advent Possible

Warning:  Catholic liturgical geekiness ahead.

This year is the shortest Advent possible.  As a refresher, Advent is the liturgical season in preparation for Christmas.  Rather than the 40 days (minus Sundays) for Lent (which, since Easter moves, results in Ash Wednesday moving around every year), Advent always starts four Sundays before Christmas.  Notice it isn’t necessarily 28 days before Christmas (which would put the first day of Advent on a different day each year), but four Sundays.  When Christmas falls on a Sunday, then you get a full four weeks.  When it falls on a Monday, like this year, you get 22 days of Advent (but still four Sundays).

This leads to some interesting side effects.  First, that final purple candle on the Advent wreath is basically unused, so you’re really set for next year.  Second, your set up crew needs to move very quickly to get the nativity scene set up after the last mass on the 4th Sunday of Advent (possibly as late as noon or 1:00pm), or they run the risk of not being done in time for the first mass of Christmas vigil (which is as early as 4:00pm in some parishes).  Third, the O Antiphons start on Gaudete Sunday (the 3rd Sunday of Advent), so if you aren’t paying attention, you might miss your first opportunity to sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” at the correct time in the liturgical season.  Fourth, Catholics have two obligations next weekend:  one for the Sunday, and another for Christmas–you can’t do a two-for-one, but you can attend twice on the 24th (once in the morning/prior to about 4:00pm, and once in the evening/after about 4:00pm) and fulfill your obligation.  Or, you can make your Christmas obligation on the day itself squeeze out every possible second of Advent this year so you are fully prepared to welcome Jesus’ coming.

Happy (short) Advent!