Night Driving

night driveTomorrow afternoon we load up the car — kids, elderly mother, dog, and presents. Lots and lots of presents. Then we head down 75 for 20 hours or so for our annual adventure to visit my mother-in-law in West Palm Beach.

It’s Craig’s annual opportunity to see how many times we can let the house-sitter set off the house alarm. Just in case you’re wondering, the record is 6 in a single day. We had to get a new house sitter after that. Also a new bedroom carpet, which Gretta soiled with the ferocity of a fireman’s hose every time the alarm went off. Good times.

My favorite part of this drive is … the night driving. Late into the night, as one by one the rest of the family nods and dreams, I sit behind the wheel, listening to a book on CD, pounding Diet Coke and Christmas cookies. My personal record is eight hours without a rest stop … with luck, I’ll be able to match it.

With night driving, you don’t have to listen to kids squabble, or play endless rounds of the Alphabet Game, or stop every ten minutes for water and bathroom breaks (you’d think they’d catch on to the fact that the two are directly related after the first twelve stops). No snarky drivers, or traffic jams, or construction pile-ups. Just the hum of the engine, the gentle lull of the reader, and the faint illumination of my husband’s LED screen. It’s pretty perfect, really.

Of course, this doesn’t last for long. Sooner or later, the aroma of Christmas cookies hits the nose of my teenage son, who hones in like a drone (despite the fact that he can’t smell the underwear rotting in his room for months on end). Sarah argues in her sleep, even if no one takes the other end of the debate stick. It’s okay, though. This is what it means to embark on a family adventure.

I wonder if this is what it was like for the Magi as they followed the trail of the star(bucks) toward Bethlehem, to find the newborn King, their camels laden with gifts and provisions and their hearts full of hope.

St. Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar — patron saints of road trips — pray for us.

Advertisements

Cookie Chronicles

blueberry zucchiniThis year, with Mom helping with the baking, I decided to dig out the old family receipe files and mix things up a bit from the tried-and-true gingerbread and candy cane routine.

In addition to the traditional banana bread (to use up the sour cream from the sugar cookie recipe I usually use), we are making:

Almond sugar cookies (my Aunt Lolly’s recipe), with crushed almonds and almond flavoring in place of vanilla. The scent was so heady, Chris wandered out of his room just to find out what was going on!

Next up, peanut butter cookies, using the “natural peanut butter” Craig asked for, then decided wasn’t crunchy enough. I added some crushed peanuts, just to be safe. Then roll ’em in more crushed peanuts and sugar. Because … well, you just can’t get enough peanuts in a peanut butter cookie!

Finally, my grandmother’s (Dixie’s) oatmeal chip cookies. I remember making these with her when I was a little girl, measuring out the oats and dumping them in the bowl. I figured we need at least one kind of cookie that will satisfy the sweet tooth of someone with a nut allergy, right?

Tomorrow is Sarah’s first guitar concert. She’s only been playing a couple of months, but the teacher already has her in a group of girls playing Taylor Swift’s “Last Christmas.” Looking forward to the fun!

Rose Sunday Tea

“Keep the joy of loving God in your heart

and share this joy with all you meet,

Especially your family. God bless you.”

St. Teresa of Calcutta

advent cake

This week Franciscan Media posted my recipe for “Rose Sunday Chocolate Pound Cake” to promote my new book
Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta. 
I wanted to offer a fuller explanation about Rose Sunday Tea for you here.

Saint Teresa often spoke of a kind of spiritual poverty in the West that was in some ways worse than what she found in the streets of Calcutta. This poverty is expressed not always in squalor and hunger, but in isolation and neglect, in fear and loneliness, in superficial relationships and broken families. That brokenness is experienced in a profound way at Christmastime. And so, at this time of year those who feel the pain of loneliness and loss are in special need of our kindness.

Are you looking for a simple way to reach out to your neighbors, acquaintances, and friends – perhaps especially those you’ve lost touch with during the rest of the year? Opening your home on Rose Sunday for just a few hours in the afternoon can be a lovely way to reconnect and to break away from the frenetic pace of the Christmas season.

The tradition can be as homespun or elaborate as you care to make it. Below you will find a few recipes that you can try, or bring out your tried-and-true favorites. If you’re not a baker, just break out your favorite tea pot and provide a selection of cookies or scones from your local bakery . . . or invite guests to bring some of their own baking for a kind of “cookie exchange.” The point isn’t to add one more high-stress activity to the last few days before Christmas, but to take a breather and enjoy the simple joy of the day.

Before guests arrive, cover your table with a pink or burgundy table covering or runner, and decorate with an Advent wreath and your favorite tea things. Depending on the number of people you invite, you may wish to set up a serving area with disposable plates and utensils. If possible, try to have one cup and saucer for each guest. (No need to match!) Provide a selection of teas as well as sugar, sweetener, lemon, honey, and milk or cream.

As guests arrive, make introductions (consider using name tags if needed) and invite your guests to pour themselves their first cup of tea, and to make themselves at home. You might choose to have carols playing quietly in the background, dim the lights a bit, or light a fire in the fireplace – anything to help you and your guests relax. If you choose to invite girls and teens, consider setting up a separate area where they can visit as well.

If your guests don’t already know each other well, you might try a simple icebreaker, such as a jar of candy canes with slips of paper attached that instruct them to draw a candy cane and give the candy to someone in the room who …

  • Knows at least three verses of Silent Night.
  • Can recite all twelve gifts from the Twelve Days of Christmas.
  • Has seen It’s a Wonderful Life this year.
  • Can make a gingerbread house from scratch.
  • Can name all eight of Santa’s reindeer.
  • Has made a snow fort.
  • Plans to see their whole family for Christmas this year.
  • Likes fruit cake.
  • Once received a pet (or pet rock) as a Christmas gift.
  • Can knit a Christmas stocking.

Prayers around the Advent Wreath

When you are ready to serve refreshments, it’s time to light the Advent wreath! Have everyone gather around, and invite four guests each to read one of the four prayers as they light the candle. After each candle is lit, the guests sing a stanza of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”:

Light the first purple candle and say: “O God, whose word makes all things holy, pour out your blessing upon us. Prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ.”

Light the second purple candle and say: “Lord, stir our hearts to receive your Son, that through his coming we may be made worthy to serve you with pure and undivided hearts.”

Light the pink (rose) candle and say: “Holy Spirit, pour into our hearts the light of gladness and thanksgiving, of peace and compassion. Make us aware of the needs of others.”

Light the fourth candle and say: “O God, our help in ages past, our hope in years to come. O come and stay with us at last, and make our hearts your home.”

Host may offer the closing prayer: “O Blessed Mother, who rushed to the side of her cousin Elizabeth the moment she heard the good news, watch over us your daughters as we share our Advent joy. Help us to bring Jesus to others, and to see Jesus in others, everywhere we go.”

As a parting favor, print small cards for your guests with this prayer by John Cardinal Newman, which Mother Teresa and her Sisters prayed each day before they began their work:

Dear Jesus, help us to spread your fragrance everywhere we go. Flood our souls with your spirit and life. Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly that our lives may only be a radiance of yours. Shine through us, and be so in us, that every soul we come in contact with may feel your presence in our soul. Let them look up and see no longer us, but Jesus. Stay with us, and then we shall begin to shine as you shine; so to shine as to be a light to others; the light, O Jesus, will be all from you, none of it will be ours: it will be you shining on others through us. Let us thus praise you in the way you love best by shining on those around us. Let us preach you without preaching, not by words but by our example; by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what we do, the evident fullness of the love our hearts bear to you. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

You can also order copies of Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta, which contains this prayer as well. God bless you!

Celebrate St. Mother Teresa at Dinner Tonight!

mt-dinner

Today I’ll be talking with Jen Fulwiler on her radio show — if you’d like a free copy of “Advent with St. Teresa of Calcutta,” just leave a comment below about the show, and I’ll put you in a drawing for a free book!

For many people, the weeks leading up to Christmas are full of rich food, lavish parties, and mall hopping till you drop. So today I thought I’d share with you a simple vegetarian meal with flavors reminiscent of the adopted homeland of Mother Teresa, and my new book with Servant/Franciscan Media Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

Recently at our parish mission, I had a distinct sense of déjà vu. My daughter’s eyes lit up  as a middle-aged missionary (in this case, a priest) spoke in animated language about the needs of those he serves, and challenged those in the congregation to give and to go. Clearly, Sarah was eager to take up that challenge — and I offered to go with her to talk to the priest afterwards.

I’d had a similar experience when I was her age, and a missionary had come to the small non-denominational church my family and I had belonged to for years. The missionary had given a similar challenge, and my middle-school self could not wait to join the effort. After the service was done, I went up to talk to him . . . and I’ll never forget how his eyes scanned over my head, looking for older and more suitable candidates. Sadly I walked away, wondering why he didn’t want me — and promising God that he could still have me, if he wanted.

Turns out, God did. About five years later, the good people of my church rallied together to raise my support, and I spent an amazing year in Senegal, West Africa as a short-term missionary before going to work in publishing (a mission field of a different kind).

And so, when this missionary priest scarcely looked my daughter in the eye as I invited him to sit with us at lunch (he was unable to do so), I decided to take it upon myself to cultivate this hunger for missions. Last night we made a “Mother Teresa Dinner,” (the recipes have been posted on the Franciscan Media website), and talked about her life among the poorest of the poor as we made naan bread.familypicWe also talked about friends like Colleen Mitchell, a Catholic missionary who works (with her husband Greg and their children) among at-risk mothers and their children in Costa Rica, and her book
Who Does He Say You Are?

I don’t know if Sarah will wind up going to the mission field. But I want her to know that she can . . . if God wants her, and she is willing to go.

sarah

.

Make a Gingerbread House for Advent!

gingerbreadhouse

This week Franciscan Media is launching “Advent with St. Teresa of Calcutta,” and so I’m reposting one of my favorite Advent traditions here, to give you some extra tips and tricks on how to create your very own Gingerbread House for Advent. This originally appeared on my original blog, “Extraordinary Moms Network.” Enjoy!
On the Friday after Thanksgiving each year, we get started. (The project can be worked on over an entire weekend.) We mix dough, cut out and bake the cookies. The next day we make a batch of royal icing, and assemble the house. (I cheat and use the powdered kind available at my local baking store. You can also get it on Amazon.) The decorating is typically done the third day, but you can assemble and bake on the same day as long as you give the house time to dry before you start decorating. An excellent video tutorial on how to assemble a simple gingerbread house is available here at “Cookies, Cupcakes, and Cardio.”
You can make your own templates to cut out your cookies from poster board or laminated parchment paper. If you’re not architecturally inclined, you can also buy gingerbread house cookie cutters at a craft store or Amazon (I like the Fox Run Gingerbread House Cookie Cutter Set).
What do you do with your house once it’s done? That’s really up to you. We like to “smash” our house on New Year’s Eve, and enjoy it with hot chocolate or coffee. Some people like to make two houses, and give one to another family or to a favorite teacher. You can also create a little “village” for your mantelpiece or tabletop. Make this tradition your own — the scent is heavenly, and the fun is contagious.
Ready to start baking? Here we go!

 

Gingerbread House

Each recipe makes one house, with enough to make a few gingerbread men or women for the tree.  You will need…

5-1/2 C unsifted flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
3 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
1 C shortening
1 C sugar
1-1/4 C molasses (dark)
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla

Combine dry ingredients into a bowl; stir and set aside. Cream sugar and shortening. Beat in molasses, egg, and vanilla until smooth. Gradually stir in dry ingredients into the molasses mixture. When it becomes too stiff to stir with spoon, work dough in with hands until completely blended. Divide dough into 4 parts. Shape into a flattened round, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill at least 1 hour and up to 2 weeks. Place a disk of chilled dough on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Cover with waxed paper or more plastic wrap and roll to 1/4-inch thickness. (Paper keeps the dough from sticking, so you don’t need flour for rolling.)

Remove plastic/waxed paper and place templates on dough, leaving 1/2-inch border around pieces. Use a small, sharp knife to cut around pattern edges. Use fingers or knife to remove scrap dough pieces, leaving house pieces intact on the foil. Cut out doors and windows as desired.

Bake at 325 degrees for 10-25 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. Gingerbread will darken, especially around edges, and feel firm to the touch. While cookies are still warm, put templates back on each piece and trim any extra cookie around the edges (it will expand during the baking process). Cool and peel off foil. Store in a cool, dry place.

To Make the Gingerbread House, You Will Need:

Pre-baked (trimmed and cooled) gingerbread cookies. (You will need at least six pieces: One base, two pointy front and back pieces, two windowed side pieces, two roof pieces.

Foil-covered cardboard. (Should be large and sturdy enough to support not only the house but any surrounding “landscaping” you choose to do.)

A couple of soup cans. (Use them to support the walls while they are drying, and remove before you put on the roof. The YouTube tutorial shows how to do this.)

Royal icing. One batch for each house you are making. When you are not actually using part of the batch, keep the icing covered by a clean, damp paper towel and dishtowel, to keep it from drying out prematurely. You will also need something to “pipe” the frosting (disposable pastry bag or Baggie with the tip clipped off). If you choose to color the icing (I usually don’t), paste gives you bolder colors than liquid food color.

Decorations! It’s really up to you what you choose to use. Tinted coconut for grass (or white for snow), frosted sugar cones for trees, Vanilla wafers for roof shingles, wafer cookies for window shutters, front stoop, benches, or door. M&Ms or pastel mints for brickwork or around garden beds (I often pipe a “tree” or “lattice” onto the back of my house, and use M&M’s for “flowers.”) Red hots and sprinkles to decorate the tops of roofs and trees. Let your imagination go wild!

To construct house, pipe or spread royal icing on the front, side, back, and other side walls (in that order), both on the bottom of each cookie and the side where it will adhere to the pieces that are already in place on the foil-lined cardboard. Once you have all four pieces in place, let rest at least 30 minutes before you place roof cookies on top. Once the roof pieces are in place, allow to dry completely (even overnight) before decorating.iv>

A Mother Teresa Miracle: Thankfulness

morning-air-bannerTomorrow morning at 7:45 on “Morning Air with John Harper,” I’ll be chatting with John (of course) about Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

Although Mother Teresa and Advent go very well together — her life was all about walking toward the light, even while in darkness — I’m especially thankful to be talking about her the day before Thanksgiving. Because when I think of Mother Teresa, the first word that comes to mind is “thankful.” No matter what, she always found reasons to be thankful for the merciful hand of God, who provided for her every need.

In one of my favorite stories about Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity, the Sisters came to Mother wanting to know how they were to feed the hungry poor their breakfast that morning. The larders were bare, and they had nothing to cook.

“Just pray,” Mother reminded them. Moments later, large trucks pulled up to the children’s home. For some reason school had been canceled that day, and the bread for the children’s lunches was no longer needed . . . so the school send the food over.

It’s a lesson we can find woven into the life stories of many great saints like Mother Teresa and Solanus Casey: When you have need of something, start by thanking God for it. The answer might not come exactly the way you’d expected … but it can be a source of Thanksgiving all the same.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Catholic Conversation Interview: Steve and Becky Greene

mother_teresa6Hello! If you are looking for a little Advent inspiration, tune in tomorrow to “The Catholic Conversation,” The Cradle & The Convert hosts Steve and Becky Greene. We’ll be discussing Advent with St. Teresa of Calcutta and what exactly Mother Teresa has to do with Advent!

If you haven’t already signed up, you can register for the W.I.N.E. Seasonal Meditations (based on the book), a free daily reminder to pause during the day to prepare your heart for Advent. Just click on this link to register. And if you want to purchase the book, you can find it at FranciscanMedia.org or at Amazon.com.

Finally, if you want to try my recipe for Rose Sunday Chocolate Pound Cake (your family will thank you), you can find that here.  Enjoy!