Best Laid Plans

Well, not really fully-formed, more like notional gardening ideas than plans, but still.

Our front yard is a bit overgrown.  It’s a challenging space because it’s really small and is basically full shade.  We have a black locust tree at the front of the yard that shades it, as does the townhouse across the street to the East.  The dogwood tree in the middle keeps the shade up in the middle of the day, then our townhouse blocks it out for the afternoon.  So, full shade conditions.  The blue star creeper I put in five years ago didn’t do too well.  The vinca the last tenants put in is threatening to engulf the sidewalk.  On the other hand, there is a nice lilac that might bloom this year (although late, because see above for lack of sun).  I might take out the existing ground cover and put in some clover (which the kids could walk and play on), but in general, something needs to be done to clean it up a little.

One of those things is to take out the rather scraggly holly that is planted far too close to the house.  Its leaves are all curled in, although green, and covered in dried-out vines (probably kudzu, nothing so picturesque as ivy (you’re welcome for the ear-worm)) and spider webs.  It just looks a little sad, and, if left, will probably start to damage the foundation sooner or later.  I was telling my mother-in-law about this plan the other day when we noticed a bird’s nest.


Complete with mama robin and three eggs.


I guess tree removal will have to wait until the eggs hatch and the chicks fly off.  At least it will be fun for the kids to watch.  Since it’s right outside a window, the cats will have a good time with it, too.

Easter Joy

We’ve finished the Octave of Easter and moved to the Second Sunday of Easter, or Divine Mercy Sunday. Liturgically, the Octave is treated as if it was all Easter. That’s why all last week was Easter [Day of the week], and this week we start with numbering the weeks, getting for example, Monday of the Second Week of Easter. If nothing else, we Catholics know how to stretch out a feast. (There is a point to this , I promise).

At Easter Sunday mass, I was struck by the idea that the last words on the cross (“It is finished.”) refer not just to the Passion and Jesus’ death, it also refers to the war against evil. OK, we still have to fight battles every day, but the war is finished, and Jesus won. We have the chance, if we take it, to enter heaven. Jesus’ death reopened the gates of Paradise for us. We spent all last week contemplating joyfully this fact. It might have been the coffee (after going all Lent without), but I was nearly giddy with the thought.

So we come to Divine Mercy Sunday. The first thing we do after coming down from the incredible joy of the Resurrection is celebrate God’s boundless mercy and all the opportunities we have to fight our battles against sin so we can be saved. Again, Jesus won, and one of the first things He did after His Resurrection is give the Apostles the authority to forgive sin. The idea behind Divine Mercy Sunday is to more closely link the Passion and Death of Jesus with the ongoing outflow of His mercy. We deserve God’s perfect justice, and instead we get His boundless mercy. A heady thought indeed.

At mass, our pastor used the occasion of Divine Mercy to discuss the sacrament of reconciliation. He talked about three common misperceptions to encourage more frequent reception of the sacrament.

First is that we shouldn’t have to confess to a priest, but ought to be able to go straight to God. He pointed out that the priest acts in Persona Christi, so we are confessing to God. It’s also how Jesus set up the sacrament when he gave the authority to forgive to the Apostles.

Second is that our sins are too embarrassing. He argued that the priest has probably heard it all before, and several times at that. While we should feel a sense of shame for having sinned, embarrassment should not keep one out of the confessional. The priest is not there to judge, but rather to dispense absolution and God’s grace.

The third is that we don’t need to go often. Yes, we must confess mortal sin immediately, but even absent mortal sin, confession is like your soul taking a bath. It’s like if you go a few days without bathing and you get accustomed to the built-up dirt and smell, and don’t notice it. Just so with confession: the sacrament cleans the accumulated small sins away so that you will notice when things are going off track.

The season of Easter continues for several more weeks. It’s a continuing opportunity to revel in the joy or Easter and receive God’s mercy.

Our Easter Feast

So, maybe not so much of a feast, but a collection of tasty treats.


Obligatory hard boiled eggs.  This year, we used onion skin (the two orange ones), hibiscus/hawthorn tea (the grey-ish one between the two orange.  Straight hibiscus works well for a denim blue but I haven’t been able to find it anywhere), turmeric (pale yellow), red cabbage (bright blue), and beets (the mauve/grey one.  Not sure why that didn’t work for a nice pink this time).


Angel food cake.  Here it is, cooling, in my grandmother’s pan (but not on the 7-up bottle she used).  I followed the recipe at Serious Eats and wow, did it turn out really well.  When I first checked the cake after 40 minutes, it had actually risen above the cooling feet, hence the bottle.  I probably let in too much cool air because it contracted a little after that, but still came out incredibly tall, light, and tasty.

We also had hot cross buns for breakfast along with the hard boiled eggs.  (No picture since WordPress is being obstinate tonight).  The cross was cream cheese sweetened with a little honey.

For dinner we had a pasta with asparagus, tomato, and sauteed mushrooms along with some challah braided into a cross and a butter lamb.

We were definitely well fed for Easter after our Lenten fast.

Happy Easter!

Sewing Project: Jeans

I finally finished a new pair of jeans for Ikinji:

Just in time, too, since the jeans he basically lives in are 1) too short and 2) developing holes in the knees.  Also, just in time for the weather to turn too warm for him to really want to wear jeans, but that’s beside the point.  They’re done, and it only took me four months to do it.

It took me a long time to figure out how to do the front pockets with the facings.  It turns out, the simplest way is the best:  just put the facings on top of the pocket material rather than trying to cut out the facing shape from the pocket material and join the fabrics.  Still, pockets can be a little tricky to visualize which side winds up being in and which one out.  The pocket tutorial at Ikat Bag was really helpful.

Not the cleanest interior, but it shows how I put the facings directly on the pocket.

I also re-did the waistband three times.  The first time I somehow cut it too narrow, the second time I messed up the front, but the third time I got it sorted out and it went pretty smoothly.  I still had to unpick and resew the thing several times, but it finally went on.

Finally, I figured out that flat-felled seams don’t look nearly as impressive without contrasting thread for the topstitching.

Flat felled, not that you can actually tell with black thread on dark indigo denim.

I should be good for a year since I built in a couple of extra inches in the hems.  If not, at least the next pair should go more quickly.

Covering Images for Passiontide

By tradition, the 5th Sunday of Lent is known as the 1st Sunday of the Passion, meaning that we have entered Passiontide.  The older practice is to cover statues and images for all of Passiontide (as opposed to just at the end of Holy Thursday mass when the altar is stripped).  As Fr. Z states in his inimitable style:

In the Gospel in traditional Form of the Roman Rite we hear:

Tulérunt ergo lápides, ut iácerent in eum: Iesus autem abscóndit se, et exívit de templo. …

They therefore took up stones to cast at Him; but Jesus hid Himself, and went out from the temple.

And so, on this Sunday, the Church traditionally hides the Lord and other images with veils, usually purple.

This is a fine old tradition. It has to do with deprivation of the senses and the liturgical dying of the Church in preparation for the Lord’s tomb and resurrection. We do this to sense something of the humiliation of the Lord as he enters His Passion, something of His interior suffering.

We are also being pruned during Lent. From Septuagesima onward we lose things bit by bit in the Church’s sacred liturgy until, at the Vigil, we are even deprived of light itself. The Church is liturgically dying.

We’ve adopted this practice in our home, especially since our parish adheres to this tradition, and, in fact, Father’s homily in the 1st Sunday of the Month TLM discussed it as a good thing to do at home.

But how do you do it?  Covers aren’t that difficult to sew for something that’s pretty straight, maybe with a bit of a flare as you approach the bottom; that is, for most statues.  You simply trace a rough outline, add a bit for seams, cut out two, and sew together.  In my experience, finishing the seams is optional since you turn it inside out and it only goes on and off once a year.  You could also get more technical and basically draft a pattern, but that seems a little much.  Draping a cloth is also an option.

Holy water fonts or other things that are hung on the wall, especially from the top, just need a gap in the seam to allow the hanger through.

Crosses and crucifixes, though, can be a challenge, especially if you want more of a diamond shape than a pentagon, that is, if you want the covering to more closely follow the outline of the cross than you would get if you just draped cloth over it.  The trick is to cut a slit in the back so that you can insert the cross and fold the cloth over it.  It looks something like this:


Back piece on the left with the slit cut in it.


After sewing front and back together


Slit in the back all the way up to the nail hole


Cross in place on the wall

See, not too difficult.  This took me all of 20 minutes, mainly because I measured wrong to begin with.  The slit goes all the way up to the nail hole; if you aren’t putting it on the wall, the slit can go just to the cross beam.

A simple way to have the domestic church mirror what the Church herself is doing to help us prepare for Easter.


The Ebb and Flow of Lent

The way the liturgical year is arranged, as well as the liturgical seasons themselves, is ingenious.  The way Lent is structured, in particular, illustrates how well the Church understands human nature and how to give subtle encouragement throughout the season so we don’t lose hope.

Lent (for Roman Catholics) is the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, exclusive of Sundays.  You wind up with six Sundays during that stretch, with the seventh being Easter itself.  Six weeks is a fairly long time to practice fasting and self-denial and can seem overwhelming if you look at it as one giant chunk of time.  Break it down into two week periods, though, and things are really manageable.  Case in point:

The Gospel for the second Sunday of Lent is always the Transfiguration, regardless of which reading cycle we’re in.  To recap, shortly before His passion, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John aside and goes up a mountain to pray.  There He is transfigured into his glory, and met by Moses and Elijah.  The Apostles are encouraged by the sight, and want to stay there basking in the glory.  The transfiguration ends, and Jesus cautions them not to tell what they saw, but yet they take encouragement from it.  Likewise, we are reminded of what comes at the end of Lent:  the glory of the Resurrection, and are encouraged to redouble our efforts at self denial so we can fully experience the joy of Easter, and everlasting glory.

Fast forward two more weeks, and we’re at Laetare Sunday, from the introit–Rejoice, Jerusalem.  This is the mid-point in Lent, and traditionally Lenten discipline is relaxed a little:  flowers can appear on the altar, the organ gets a chance to play solo, rather than just as a backing for singing, and the priest has the option to wear rose [don’t call it pink, though].  The Dominicans writing in their online journal, Dominicana, have a good explanation of why Laetare Sunday matters.  It’s well worth a read (as is about 99 percent of what you find there).  Again, a couple of weeks after the last bit of encouragement, we get another liturgical reminder of what’s coming, and a shot in the arm to pick up our personal sacrifices again.

From this point, Lent starts to get heavier and heavier:  Statues begin to be covered in the fifth week of Lent, and the readings point more and more directly at the coming Crucifixion.  Once we hit the sixth week, it’s Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week.  Palm Sunday has its own ebb and flow, starting with the triumphant procession into Jerusalem, culminating in the Passion narrative for the Gospel.  Yet, again, the Church gives us the emotional encouragement we need right before we head into Holy Week.  It’s like that last mile marker in a race–you know the end is coming soon, but you still have to keep pushing to get there.

There’s one additional bit of encouragement we get during Lent, the Solemnity of the Annunciation on March 25.  That day we celebrate Christ’s incarnation, and, again, Lenten discipline can be relaxed–we even get the Gloria back during mass for that day.  Also, depending on where you are, St. Joseph’s day (March 19) can also be a day to take a pause during Lent.  It’s big, of course, in Italy, but in Trinidad and Tobago they told us that in the old days you wouldn’t hear Calypso during Lent except for on St. Joseph’s day.

We’re humans, and the Church recognizes that we need a bit of encouragement to get through the marathon of Lent without giving up hope.  That’s why we have a mixture of readings, liturgical signs, and cultural practices that help us along the way so that we don’t get bogged down in the length of Lent, but rather can make it through our personal penances and sacrifices to share in the glory of Easter in this world, and, we hope, in the world to come.

Winter Bicycling

Last week we got forcefully reminded that winter doesn’t end until the equinox.  Monday night into Tuesday it finally snowed, although I’m not sure “snow” is the right word for the almost three inches of frozen, wet, sloppy concrete that covered the ground.  I knew that biking on Tuesday would have been ill-advised, so made my way to work on public transportation.  It worked really well, probably because the bus I took followed a snow route rather than its usual path, which involves a very steep, winding incline.

Wednesday, though, I thought I’d be able to make it in on bike.  The day dawned clear and bright, but still sub-freezing.  It took me about 20 minutes to go a mile and a half or so.  I was doing more walking than biking, and the wind was starting to kick up.  My relatively narrow tires just didn’t have the traction to go over the snow concrete that now had a foundation of ice under it.  I swallowed my pride and headed back home so I could take public transportation again.  Thursday as well I took the bus and Metro because the sidewalks near home were still pretty slick in spots.  Friday was good biking weather, though.

Even though it was an abandoned attempt at biking in the snow and ice, I did get to refresh my memory on how to tackle winter weather.  The first tip is to go slowly, but confidently.  You don’t want to trip yourself up by going too slow over the ice, but you also can’t go tearing down the path like it’s dry.  Second is to keep your wheel as straight as possible–I’ve only ever skidded and fallen when making a turn or going around a curve (however slight).  This translates into some wide turns, but a gentle wide turn that makes you look like a goofball is better than a crash, if you ask me.  Third is to avoid ruts–you want to maintain control of where your front wheel goes.  Even though things were largely cleared off on Friday, there were still a couple of patches of ice, including one that had several ruts going across it.  Rather than try to navigate that and get sucked into a rut, I opted to dismount and walk it.

So, lucky me, I got to refresh my winter bike skills just in time for Spring to actually start.  With any luck this will make next winter a bit less of a shock to the system.

Benson Lounging Around

Sunbeam for Benson

With the change in the seasons, the sunbeams move around a bit.  Our kitchen/dining room has a west facing window that lets in some nice afternoon light.  Now that we’re entering spring, the sunbeam persists for longer and longer, and falls right across our table.  The issue is we do not allow the cats to lounge on the table.  As any cat owner knows, it is nearly impossible to keep a cat from a sunbeam, especially one that falls on a nice, flat, empty surface.  Lavash gets nudged off the table regularly.  Benson, however, seems to have found an alternative location.

Note that he is decidedly NOT on the table.

He’s not on the table, but he is directly in front of the sink.  Not only does he get to enjoy the sun, he can try to intercept any interesting food scraps on their way to the disposal or the garbage can (which is under the sink).  Double win for the cat, but annoying side for the cook, especially since prime sunbeam time is right when dinner prep starts.  Such is life with cats.

Enough With the Wind Already

Yep, March is coming in like a lion.  As the NOAA forecast discussion has said, early March is often a battle between air masses.  The biggest issue is that it started in mid-February.

A couple of weeks ago on my way in to work, the wind was blowing from the north and gusting into the 40mph range.  This meant I had a headwind all the way in, except for crossing the Potomac.  For that, I had a nasty cross-wind that threatened to blow me off my bike and into traffic.  Rather than get slammed into a fence, I decided to walk across the bridge.  Probably a good choice, since that meant I was able to hold the bike at a 45 degree angle and not turn into a sailboat.

Things calmed down for a week, but have kicked back up recently.  Last week, I had a headwind to work most days.  Heading home wasn’t bad, and some days I had a tailwind, except for Thursday, when I had headwinds both ways thanks to the wind shifting at around noon.  I hate it when that happens.

On the other hand, the windiness has gotten me thinking about how to rig a sail to my bicycle to take advantage of March’s roars.  I wonder if PVC would be strong enough to take the force of the wind.  Also, the bike path isn’t all that wide so it would be lots of micro zigging and zagging to tack and make use of the wind.  Hmmmmmm….things to ponder while getting blown along.