Friday, April 9, 2021

A beautiful Holy Week, and some unexpected developments in my prayer routine...

Hello all, and HAPPY EASTER! I hope that you had a spectacular Holy Week and Easter Sunday, and that Easter blessings continue to shower your way. For my part, I doubly enjoyed it this year, after missing the liturgies so much last year. I didn't make it to the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday, but I made it to both the Good Friday liturgy, and the Easter vigil. It was *so lovely*, and I felt so blessed and grateful to, (a) be there with my kids, and (b) be a part of something so much larger than myself that is so magnificently rich and beautiful. It really struck me anew this year at the Easter Vigil how much I have to be grateful for, and how much I value my faith. 

And I decided to do something new this year. Instead of giving up/resolving to do something for all of Lent, I decided to try and pray both Morning and Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours for the entirety of Holy Week. I mentioned an idea to my sister and a few mutual good friends that we could perhaps pray them together when we could via video chat. We began on the vigil of Palm Sunday, and though here and there 1-2 of us couldn't make some of the sessions, we were able to pray the Hours together a lot during Holy Week, and on the times we couldn't be together, we prayed them individually. It was so uplifting and cheering, and I looked forward each day to seeing the faces of those who could make it, along with any children who came along for the ride. :)

This all worked out so much better than I ever could have expected. I was so inspired by our commitment to this that 6 days into the Easter octave, I'm still praying the Hours. Mostly by myself because evenings were tough for everyone this week, but I've been praying Morning Prayer with my sister pretty much every morning (we're in the same time zone, definitely makes that easier!), and it has given a lift to my days that I haven't felt since the pandemic started. I've also found myself seeking out books about praying the Hours, and commentaries/reflections on the psalms in the Psalter, because my curiosity has been so whetted. I treated myself to this as an Easter gift, and am LOVING IT:

This is all quite unexpected. Although I've long had a love for the Liturgy of the Hours, I've never found a routine for praying them with regularity and consistency. I've picked up the St. Joseph guide each year and prayed here and there when the mood struck, but it sadly hasn't been a daily thing for me. Now I find myself craving more and more information about this form of prayer, and adding in additional Hours when I can (Daytime and Night Prayer). It's so delightful that I'm just going with it, hoping that this means it will really stick this time. I even have the Supplement to the Proper of Saints on it's way, as well as a special supplement for Dominican saints! πŸ™Œ

So my Holy Week and first week of Easter have been even more special than usual. I'll likely continue to blog about the Liturgy of the Hours and how that is going, and generally about spiritual topics this Easter season. I'm still planning out what I'd like to focus on here at the blog for Easter season and summer Ordinary Time. Thoughts on what you'd like to see? How was your Easter?! I'd love to hear from you in the comments!

Friday, March 26, 2021

Lenten Book Club Final Week: Of mobs and antipopes...


My goodness, this Lent just flew by, did it not?! I can hardly believe that we are at the end of our Lenten Book Club for 2021! This Book 5 was pretty quick and speedy, yes? And I'm soooo excited to chat about the conclusion to our adventures with St. Catherine of Siena!

We pick back up with lots of action ongoing. The pope is miserable back in Rome, afraid for his life, and feels like the country is against him. Fra Raymond is requested by the pope to lead a different community (maybe in Rome? I was confused about this), and Catherine is crushed. The pope is no longer responding to her letters (ingrate ;-)), so she sends Fra Raymond with a note to include within one of his correspondence to the Holy Father. Based upon this, the pope agrees to let Catherine (but no priests, fearing for their lives) go to Florence to try and work with them further on ending the war. Florence, meanwhile, is ignoring the Interdict and generally distancing themselves more from the pope. 

Oh boy, things aren't good. And THEN... the pope dies. 😭 And things go from bad to worse. There is chaos with regard to the papal successor. I definitely found this part interesting, so much historical information that I did not have the details of: the first man elected was an Italian (Urban VI), and apparently this was because a mob broke into the Vatican demanding that it be so? 😳 eeeeekkkkksssss. But then the cardinals announced that the new pope was French, leading to the very first antipope in Avignon (Clement XII)! This is referred to as the Western Schism. Who knew?

While in Florence, a mob goes after Catherine, and she is unafraid to meet martyrdom, thus her quiet and powerful witness convinces them to leave without harming her. Catherine had actually desired to be martyred and was disappointed!

Meanwhile in Rome, the new pope is a bit abrasive. Catherine begins to write to him, too, trying to develop a rapport and do her part to keep the papacy in Rome. She gives her last will and testament to her priestly advisors, which is her Dialogue

An even bigger war develops, between those loyal to the pope, and those loyal to the antipope. The new pope likes Catherine and respects her opinion. Catherine goes to Rome to do whatever she can to support the pope and change the people's hearts back to loyalty to him. 

Unfortunately, Catherine has an attack of some sort and becomes gravesly ill. She dies at age 33, her mother by her side to give her her blessing. 

In the conclusion, we find out that her good friend and sister Alessia dies only a few months later. Fra Raymond becomes Master General of the Dominican Order, and wrote the very first Life of St. Catherine of Siena. Pope Urban VI holds the papacy for 9 years before he dies, but never becomes well liked amongst the people of Rome. The schism continues for 35 years, but the papacy never left Rome again.

Wow. I mean, WOW! What a story! I learned so much from this book about history, and about Catherine. I admired her firm faith, developed in mere childhood, and her sweet but powerful presence. She had charisma, people were so drawn to her, but she wasn't a showy person. She channeled it all back to Christ and His Church. Great stuff!

What were your thoughts on the ending to Lay Siege to Heaven? I would love to hear them in the comments!

P.S. Since next week is Holy Week, and I usually post on Fridays, I'm anticipating taking the week off from blogging to focus on the Triduum liturgies! I'll be back the first week of Easter to revel in all the liturgical details, and make plans for the spring!

Friday, March 19, 2021

Lenten Book Club Week 4: Of papal audiences and sea voyages...

Hello everyone, and happy Friday! We're past the halfway point of Lent, and I can hardly believe it. It seems to be flying by this year! 

I worked quite steadily through Book 4 of our St. Catherine saga this week, and we're now 85% of the way through the book! This section was also pretty dense, lots of political doings and voyages between Italy and Avignon. I'm enjoying it, but definitely the intricacies of the historical context are eluding me a bit, so I'll sum up as best I can!

We have our dear, brave Catherine writing a lot of letters to the pope. She has become much more well respected throughout her community and amongst men in the Church. Some of the cardinals, though, are a bit mystified at how the pope seems to quite heavily consider and weigh Catherine's opinions.

There is a lengthy, and somewhat amusing scene, of negotiations between emissaries from Florence with the pope, and that does not go well, at ALL. Here I had to do a little online encyclopedia background research:

Eight of War (War of the Eight Saints) - a coalition of Italian city states led by Florence that objected to the expansion of the Papal States into territory Florence considered it's own. The Avignon popes insisted on this expansion as part of their conditions of return to Rome. This ultimately leads to the end of the Avignon Papacy (which lasted for 67 years!). Ends in 1378 with return of Gregory XI to Rome, but interestingly, his death soon thereafter spurs the infamous antipopes back in Avignon.

Interdict - This is imposed by the pope on Florence, and is a ban on ecclesiastical functions, so no mass for them!

Catherine ultimately travels to Avignon and goes to see the pope. There is some intrigue here involving a group of snooty ladies, one of whom is the pope's niece, who try to thwart Catherine and expose her as a "fraud" by stabbing her with a needle during one of her ecstasies 😱, but they are unsuccessful. During her papal audience, Catherine convinces him to return to Rome, which is HUGE. It is an arduous journey for them both, separately, back to Italy, and they both stop over in Genoa. The pope actually sneaks out at night dressed as a regular priest to see Catherine. He's worried about the rebels killing him, but is convinced by Catherine to press on, and the papacy officially returns to St. Peter's as we complete Book 4.

Wow. Even though I continue to struggle a bit to totally follow the political situation, I still grasped the larger point and significance of the major events, and am sooooo glad we chose to read this book this Lent! What did you all think? We finish up next Friday with Book 5!

Friday, March 12, 2021

Lenten Book Club Week 3: Trials of many kinds, including the dreaded Plague...

Happy Friday, everyone! Wow, Lent is really moving right along, isn't it? We're getting our first fish fry tonight, and I'm really looking forward to it. :) I'm also midway through my teaching commitments for the spring semester, and feeling quite relieved about that. Vaccination rates are ramping up nicely here, the sun is out more, and I'm generally feeling more hope for the future!

And so here with are in our third week with St. Catherine of Siena and our book club for Lent 2021! I have to admit that this part took me by surprise a bit in that it was the longest so far, so I didn't budget my time for it well at the outset. I literally just finished reading it prior to opening my laptop and starting this post, LOL! I also found this part a bit harder to follow with all of the political stuff ramping up, and I am *terrible* with names, so I was getting confused quite easily with the sheer volume of new names introduced in this section. I'm only finally remembering Fra Raymond and Fra Bartolomeo, her Dominican friar friends. But I digress, overall the content was just as interesting as it's been all along!

We start out with Catherine's trial before the Master General of the Dominican order over these accusations that Catherine has acted in an untoward manner with the townspeople of Siena. Catherine is patient and humble throughout the proceedings, and many priests come to her defense. I thought it was touching how she mentioned that of the two possible outcomes, neither was a bad one: she will either be totally exonerated, or she will be found guilty, and if so, it must be the Will of God, thus how could that ever be a bad thing? In the end, she is fully acquitted!

Back in Siena, the plague has struck, and I have to admit, given the current global pandemic, this brought on a fresh set of chills. Lots of Catherine's family fall prey, including many of her nieces and nephews, which is heartbreaking. Catherine is unafraid and right out there in the field, aiding the sick and dying in their last moments. We have some quite dramatic things occur here in which Catherine is a part of God's plan to heal two priests who contract the plague. The entire experience softens the heart of Catherine's mother, now a widow, and she joins the Mantellates. So sweet! We also have Maria Gambacorti, the young daughter of a very important man in Siena, entering the Dominicans as a postulant, a real boon in the religious life here!

The next major part addresses Catherine visiting the cell of a condemned man awaiting his death sentence to try and save his soul. This scene goes on for a lot longer than I expected, and I have to say that I found it very had to read. The man is young, and Catherine takes an immediate shine to him as a brother. It's quite touching, and ultimately he repents and receives confession and the Eucharist, and Catherine is there for him every step of the way at his request, including at the execution site. I was in tears by the end, thinking of my own son, given this man's age. This was so, so tough, but very moving.

And finally, in the last part of Book 3, I was struggling a bit to understand fully who was who and what was going on. From what I could tell, Florence and other nearby cities are beginning to rebel politically, wanting a new government, and are also aligning against the pope. Catherine wants to visit some troops who have encamped near Florence, whose leader is this well known successful, but extremely brutal guy, to try and convince them to fight for the side of the Church, but she is denied permission by the archbishop. So she sends her two Dominican priest friends instead, and this part is quite endearing and humorous with their talk amongst themselves of their presumed upcoming martyrdom. When the leader reads Catherine's letter, he is swayed to her side. This is good (ish?) news, but then Siena also decides to align with the rebels.

At the very end of this section, the new list of cardinals comes out, and includes only 1 Italian, the rest are all French save for a single Spaniard. Catherine then decides to write to the pope in Avignon.

OK, so I have peppered my summary with my main commentary on my overall feelings regarding this section. I found it very poignant, some real pearls of wisdom in here about faith, that I know will stick with me long after I finish this book. At the same time, I found other parts a little harder to move through and easily keep track of what was happening. What were your thoughts? I would love to hear them in the comments!

My Kindle tells me I'm about 65% of the way through the book, and I know Book 5 is somewhat shorter than the others. Thus, I'm expecting Book 4 to be comparable in length to Book 3 and will plan accordingly. ;-)

Friday, March 5, 2021

Lenten Book Club Week 2 - Shenanigans and hospital corners...


Hello all and happy Friday! I hope you are all doing well this second week of Lent. I'm hanging in pretty well. The weather is still quite cold in my part of the world, but the sun is out a whole lot more, and we're seeing a lot more daylight in the evenings now, increasing all of our levels of Vitamin D, which is really important these days. My teaching has started up, and I have 4 of my regular weekly sessions (6 to go) behind me, which feels good. I still have those 2 crazy weeks ahead of me where I'm teaching like 25 Zoom classes πŸ˜‚, but I feel better prepared for them this semester, so that's a plus. We're really getting there!

This week once again, I raced right through Book 2 of our time with St. Catherine of Siena, and I am so in love with this style of Catholic historical fiction based on the life of a saint. It has me thinking all sorts of fun thoughts for a Summer Book Club, so be prepared to chat about that over Easter. ;-)

When we last left off with Catherine, she felt called to move away the home monastery model of living in her bedroom within her parents' house as if it were a cell, coming out only to worship with the other Mantellates. Instead, she is now working in the hospital, caring for critically ill patients in dire need of TLC. She does return home to be at the deathbed of her father, whose time in purgatory is taken on by Catherine, and she rejoices when he is called to our Lord, and she has the solace of knowing that he is in heaven. 

Catherine is also now encountering members of the local community who are not exactly living their lives in accordance with their faith. We have amusing and endearing anecdotes in this section of a curmudgeonly falconer who has developed a scathing hatred of the Church and the priesthood, that after an encounter with Catherine goes to the parish church to apologize, receive the sacrament of Reconciliation, and gift the priests with his favorite falcon. A local Franciscan who was living a bit too richly off-handedly asks Catherine to pray for him, and suddenly has a revelation that he is not living out his vocation in a way that is pleasing to God, and consequently donates all of his lovely possessions to the poor. There is also a town ladies man having an affair with a married woman who repents and goes to confession, and highly learned British hermit (with a bit of a superiority complex) that Catherine puts in his place. She's discreet, but not exactly shy, our Catherine. 

But her obvious sanctity and calling out of others on their bad behavior ruffles some feathers, to be sure, especially the married woman who has now been cast aside by her former beau. As well, while many of her sister Mantellates adore her, there are some that have not been won over. The rising tide of the gossip mill within their town causes the Prioress to advise Catherine that she is going to be brought before the Master General to face allegations that her time with various townspeople has had a scandalous element to it.

What did you all think of this part?! I really felt for Catherine being on the receiving end of others' jealousy and insecurity. I really admire her spunky personality, and her commitment to her faith. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Friday, February 26, 2021

Lenten Book Club Week 1 - Of haircuts and Mantellates...

Hello everybody and welcome to the first installment in our book club series for Lent 2021, I am SO EXCITED!


Today we are set to reflect about Part 1 (technically called Book 1 within the text), which encompassed the first 7ish chapters. I was worried that maybe these chunks would be too much for me to read in a single week, and that maybe we would have to modify the schedule. Um, that is not a problem at ALL as it turns out, πŸ˜‚ and I absolutely sped through this section! I LOVED it, and cannot wait to chat with you all about it!

OK, so Book 1. We are in the 14th century with St. Catherine, who is age 19, and living at home with her family. St. Catherine comes from a big family, I knew that she was youngest of 25 children, although I didn't realize that so many of them had sadly passed away as infants, it sounds like. The book mentions her having, I believe, 13 living siblings. When the story begins, we find that her mom is very concerned with finding her a husband and marrying her off. I suppose that was the 14th century equivalent to lying awake at night with your stomach in a knot worrying about your shy teenager not socializing enough, and learning to drive next year. 😳 But I digress. Mom wants Catherine to get married, but Catherine does not want any part of getting married. She is a very devout young woman, has had a very close relationship with Jesus her whole childhood, and wants to dedicate her life to Christ and the Church.

The opening of this book was so poignant to me, because I related to both of these women in different ways. The mom is being a bit pushy, to be sure, and her daughter is now a grown woman who can make choices for her vocation on her own. But at the same time, as a fellow mom, I empathized with her desire to see her daughter safe and secure in a good situation for her life going forward. Her other children got married, that's the known route. Plus women didn't exactly have an easy time of things back then; that scene description of the festival time leading up to Lent, and the out of control behavior, gave me chills. 😒Having a husband would provide Catherine with some manner of protection against the lecherous element of society. But I also understood Catherine's desire to make her own decisions, and to honor the calling she had to a more religious life. It would be a change from the traditional process for young adults at that time, but change is necessary sometimes to help us to thrive and grow. 

And so that early scene with the mom talking about how beautiful Catherine's hair is, and how that will lure in a good husband, gave me a strong sense of foreboding. πŸ˜‚ And indeed, at first opportunity, Catherine procures a pair of scissors and cuts off her hair. And I was on her side for this! She's a grown woman, she can wear her hair as she pleases. At the same time, the scene at the sauna? 


Sorry Catherine, I'm with your mom on this one, no deliberate walking into scalding steam!!!

But to her credit, her mom does acquiesce, with some help from the dad, to allow Catherine to follow her desire to join the Mantellates, a group of laywomen who devote themselves to the teachings of St. Dominic. Although they do not live in community, they worship and pray together, work together on community service, and generally follow a religious rule that they developed for themselves. Granted, the mom was hoping that the group would reject Catherine's desire to join as she was significantly younger than the other, often widowed, members, but no matter. The mother superior is pretty skeptical, but ultimately Catherine's piety wins them over. She is accepted into the group, and her family welcomes her to continue to reside in their home as she lives out her religious vocation with the Mantellates. 

Immediately, of course, she encounters some drama. :-0 Some of the other members are jealous of her devoutness, and generally insecure about how different she is from the rest of them. So young, and yet seemingly goes into ecstatic fainting spells after receiving the Eucharist. Her confessor is consulted, and he backs her up: she's not faking this, she's genuinely experiencing something, or at the very least, truly believes that she is experiencing something divine. Here too, I can see both sides. One does have to be cautious about supernatural phenomena, and I can understand that the group was concerned that Catherine may either be having visions that weren't from God, or was experiencing something physical and not spiritual. She is asked to receive the Eucharist only once per month to keep these little episodes to a bare minimum, and this sacrifice is a huge one for Catherine, but she accepts it without question.

When we leave off at the end of Book 1, Catherine's family is talking over the dinner table about shenanigans with the pope moving between Rome and Avignon, and Catherine receives a call to leave her home and go out to serve Christ in a new and different way. OOOOOOoooooo! I can't wait to read Book 2! 

I am absolutely loving this book! What are your thoughts on part 1?!

Friday, February 19, 2021

Birthdays and book club schedules: Lent 2021 Week 1...

Happy (? 😁) first week of Lent, everyone! I do so enjoy Lent every year with it's focus on spiritual planning and goals. 


This year, Ash Wednesday marked the first time I've ever had "ash sprinkling" as the mechanism for receiving ashes, but there's a first time for everything, I suppose. I'm just grateful that we'll be able to attend Mass during Lent and Holy Week this year. No scripture service this year, just ash distribution, so we were in and out of the church in under a minute. Alas. But we do have other Lenten things to look forward to this year!

My just-past-midway February birthday often falls during Lent, and indeed, it sometimes falls on Ash Wednesday. I have to admit, my preference is for it *not* to fall on Ash Wednesday, even a Lenten Friday is OK with me! This year was bonus in that it fell on a Thursday, a party day right between two days of fasting, BOOM. 


And it was a lovely day. I was working from home with the kids here, but I took part of the day off and played in the snow with Anne and picked us up some Starbucks. Free birthday latte for me! 

*virtual high five*

I also made up an online ballet class via recording and practiced my finger cymbals. Mike and the kids had me pick out our dinner takeout (white pizza and antipasto salad) and got me a huge cookie cake with lots of frosting (my favorite!). It was genuinely a beautiful day.

Now we're at the first Friday of Lent, and I'm feeling jazzed for all of the spiritual nourishment that is to come! I have our Catholic Book Club selection for Lent 2021 all downloaded to my Kindle, and ready to go. In determining a schedule, I have tentatively come up with the following:

  • February 26th - Part 1
  • March 5th - Part 2
  • March 12th - Part 3
  • March 19th - Part 4
  • March 26th - Part 5

So we begin next Friday! And will wrap up just before Holy Week. The division into 5 parts makes this intuitive, but each of these parts is between 70 and 80 pages long (with the exception of Part 5, which is a little shorter). That's a bit longer than I'd like (I'm not the fastest reader anymore) so we'll see how it goes. If I need to adjust the schedule midway through to give us a bit more time and even extend into Easter, we can absolutely do that. Let's see how Part 1 for next Friday goes and we'll take it from there! I'm very excited to get started on this journey with St. Catherine of Siena!

How was your Ash Wednesday and general start to Lent? I would love to hear from you in the comments!

Friday, February 12, 2021

Ash Wednesday is right around the corner, and Lenten Book Club 2021 plans!

Hi all, and happy Friday, the last Friday in Ordinary Time before Lent begins! As ever, I'm quite excited. In fact, I wrote about my joy in annual Lenten planning this month for Catholic Mom. I know it's a solemn time of penance, to be sure, but there's something about the wintry organization and focus that really makes me happy as a librarian. :-) Ash Wednesday marking the beginning of the season is something I always look forward to, and I always reflect on the dark days with the coming hope of Easter. 

This year, granted, Ash Wednesday will look a bit different in terms of our traditions (understandable, but still, I'm sad!) Our diocese is doing ash sprinkling over the head rather than crosses on the forehead this year. What is your parish doing?

In terms of a book club for Lent, I've definitely decided to run one on the blog this year, and based on the poll I posted in our Facebook group, and the responses I received in the comments last week, I have pulled Lay Siege to Heaven: A Novel About St. Catherine of Sienna, by Louis de Wohl as our winner!

SUPER EXCITED to read this book! I absolutely love historical fiction, and you know that stories of the saints are my very favorite! So now, how to proceed. Let's take 1-2 weeks to allow time for those who wish to participate to receive and begin the book. I know at least one person is going to be looking to request this via their library, and others may be ordering print copies that will take some time to arrive. Next week I'll put up an Ash Wednesday and general start to Lent post. We can get started chatting about the book on Friday February 26th. I want to assure we have plenty of time to read each section. I just downloaded the Kindle copy, and it looks like the book has 5 parts. I need to look at it more carefully to see how long each part is, but the book is 372 pages in total. I'll chart out a full plan with dates and pop that up next week. Sound like a plan?

I'm so excited to get started on this! Let me know if you're in for the Lenten Book Club 2021 down in the comments! 

Friday, February 5, 2021

Narrowing down the Lenten book club, and some in-progress winter crafting...

Hello all and happy Friday! It's a windy day here in WNY, with a lake effect snow storm on the way, so it'll be a cozy weekend in for us. We're looking forward to some family movie time, and making some snacks for the Super Bowl on Sunday. :-)

I'll get to our Lenten Book Club in just a second, but first I wanted to post a little creativity update in terms of winter crafting. Winter really inspires me in my knitting and crocheting: the colors, the cozy accessories, the SOCKS, so many socks. :-0 I just love it. I'm in a sock knit -along with some other knitters themed around tea, and we decided upon the Mint Tea Socks, which is a free pattern! These are my yarn options:

I genuinely don't know which to pick, they're both so good! I should have them cast on by next Friday. 

I also received an order of Valentine yarn from Bumblebee Acres, and I'm so in love. 😍

Granted, there will not be a pair of socks knit by Valentine's Day, but I am undeterred! Valentine's Socks can be worn year round. ;-)

I did cast on a mohair wrap in soft glacial colorways, and I'm quite smitten with it:

Pattern is Hygge and Hearth Scarf from Bumblebee Acres

And I finished my Lotus Flower hats, complete with giant pom poms! 

Lotus Flower Beanie, from BKnitsHandmade

Gorgeous pom poms are from North Star Stitches on Etsy!

Very much needing the hats and scarves these days with the wintry weather we're finally having!

But OK, let's talk Lent. I got a little bit of interest in my mention of a fiction title that we would read together this Lent, but not a ton of other feedback. So I had a few suggestions, but am very open to more! In perusing my book shelf, I happened upon this title, obviously non-fiction, but I absolutely love St. Faustina! And she fits great with a lead up to Easter, I think, since Divine Mercy Sunday is so close in time thereafter:

Our Friend Faustina, by Emily Jaminet and Michele Faehnle

And in continuing with our saint theme, I happened across a copy of one of Louis de Wohl's books in his series of historical fiction focusing on the saints. I have The Quiet Light, which is about St. Thomas Aquinas:

But there are also books just like this in his series that feature St. Francis of Assisi, St. Joan of Arc, St. Benedict, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Francis Xavier...the list goes on and on. Do any of these sound appealing? I'm really feeling this saint theme. But I'm open to all ideas! Cast your vote by leaving a comment! :)

Friday, January 29, 2021

February is almost here, which means it's time to think about book clubs!


Friends! I hope that you're staying warm this extra chilly January day. πŸ€— As for me, I'm bundled up in a hoodie layered with a blanket, because both Mike and I working from home means that the thermostat is set at a temperature comfortable to both of us 0% of the time. 🀣 It's a bit rough, but we're makin' it! The weather has taken a definite turn for the wintry here in WNY. Highs today are in the teens Fahrenheit, and I just can't seem to get warm!

But I'm in great spirits, and it's Friday, so life is good. I've been doing a little book club work in the background this month that I wanted to share with you, and I want to start to plan for Lent, so we have a great booky theme for today!

Since the new year, our fab friend Allison Gingras, and editor of the Stay Connected Journals series, has been leading a book club for Our Sunday Visitor featuring the book of none other than yours truly! I've been at two out of the four sessions so far, and they are an absolute delight. They're concise 30 minute sessions featuring a discussion of one chapter a week, group questions and other musings on the chapter theme for that week. You can catch up on the recordings and/or register for the remaining sessions here. They are totally free, and the live sessions take place at noon EST, great for lunchtime book clubbing! If you'd like to purchase the book, OSV's bookstore has a coupon code for 50% off my book, Exploring the Catholic Classics, with the coupon code: CLASSICS. Free shipping with any $20 purchase over there, too! AND, of course, the rest of the books in that series are available there (if you're like me and spend more just to get to free shipping thresholds every single time, LOL!) and the new series themes are pretty amazing! I want to get all three of the new ones that I don't yet have, actually. We have one on living the liturgical year (this is my favorite new theme of the three, I must get it!), managing anxiety and learning to trust, and the theological and cardinal virtues. In fact, the virtues book will be the focus of the Our Sunday Visitor Lenten Book Club, and is available for 50% off with code: VIRTUE. These coupon codes are single use only, but you can order as many copies of each book that you like in that order! I'm plotting my order right now, pretty much guaranteed to get all three of the newer books, ha ha!

But this got me to thinking: what would be like to do for Lent over here on the blog? I tend to enjoy book clubs or related Lenten themes for that particular liturgical season. In the past, we've actually done historical fiction for our Lenten Book Club, which I absolutely loved, since there are lots of other book club choices for non-fiction. We featured the Living Water series by Stephanie Landsem, I remember that very fondly. I could scour for some other title ideas for next week if a fiction book club sounds of interest. We could also intersperse with other Lenten themed posts about liturgical living and even related crafts. Let me know your ideas, and we'll begin exploring these and nailing down our ideas next week! Ash Wednesday is in two and a half weeks, if you can believe it! :-0

Friday, January 22, 2021

Creative Ideas Friday: Try something totally new that you've always wanted to explore!

Happy Friday everybody, and I hope you are hanging in there just fine this gray January day! Despite the bleakness in the sky, I love January, and always find fresh inspiration and excitement for all of the potential that lies ahead for the year. This week, I thought we would focus on a more general concept for our Creative Ideas Friday: trying out something totally new to you that you have always yearned to explore!

Let's face it: these at-home pandemic times, depressing though they may be, present an ideal opportunity to finally tackle that One Thing you were always so curious about. We have more time with which to tackle them, and the availability of online classes mean that the risk of embarrassing yourself in public is pretty low. :-0 For me, that thing was learning to play the finger cymbals. Dun dun dun!

Many dancers learn to play the finger cymbals when they first learn to dance, but that was not my experience. So now I've been dancing and performing for over a decade, and had to Google how to even strap these things onto my fingers. :-0 My sister gifted me a pair of smaller finger cymbals (the traditional starting size), which is what I'm starting with. These beauties are from Turquoise International, well-regarded makers of cymbals:

Oriental cymbals, size 2 1/4 inches

I'm taking a 30 minute class each lunchtime, Monday through Thursday, and it is absolutely perfect for drilling a new skill like this! I started right after the New Year, and now have 3 weeks under my belt. I can honestly say that I'm a lot less bad than when I first started. πŸ˜‚ I've learned 5 sounds so far (I hadn't even realized there were more than 1 common one!) and can play them in multiple simple patterns. The dancing at the same time part is still a work in progress, πŸ˜‡ but one can't expect miracles in 3 weeks! I can at least walk around a bit while playing them, that's the first step, and incorporate in some basic movements in time to the rhythm that we're playing alongside. I'm learning SO MUCH about the different rhythms within Middle Eastern music, and I am absolutely soaking it all up! The ability to mute myself during class is giving me life. 😎 Again, the online format is such a low intimidation factor in terms of taking on something completely new!

As my obsession grows, I naturally started going down some YouTube rabbit holes. I found out how to sew the elastic on my cymbals, rather than relying on small safety pins. I also discovered how different sizes, shapes, and metals can affect the sound of your cymbals. I wanted to be able to compare my smaller cymbals with a larger pair (and thought the larger surface size might also make it easier for me to make some of the sounds I was struggling with, and I was right) so I treated myself to these beauties:

Saroyan large Grecian cymbals in brass

Saroyan is a renowned cymbal company, and there are sound clips on their site of all of their cymbals, and I spent a delightful few days listening to all of them multiple times. I found that the bigger cymbals make a deeper sound than the smaller ones, and that brass presents a mellower tone than the more high pitched silver ones. Dancers usually have many different pairs of cymbals for this very reason, depending on the environment in which they'll be dancing (indoors vs outdoors, how large a space, what type of music will they be dancing to) so that they can pick cymbals that will achieve the sound they want. I absolutely love the mellower sound of the brass cymbals, and these Grecian ones are my new bff, but at some point I'll almost certainly add a silver set to my arsenal. I am having SUCH a delightful time exploring this totally new-to-me skill, and am so glad that I embarked on it! I don't know when I will perform with finger cymbals, if ever (though it would be nice to add them to my possibilities for gigs, when those resume again) but regardless, I'm thoroughly enjoying the process and the healthy challenge that they present to me. I'm also learning so much about Middle Eastern music that I can translate to all of my dancing. I plan to continue with my classes next month!

In other creative news, I just had to share this new hat pattern with you that I am currently also obsessing over. :-0 It is called the Lotus Blossom Beanie, and the effect is absolutely stunning, wouldn't you agree?!

Pattern is Lotus Flower Beanie from BKnitsHandmade

There has been some talk in my crafting community about the price of this pattern ($11), which is more than hat patterns traditional cost. However, this pattern includes detailed photographs of the tricky lotus blossom technique, directions for sizes 6-12 months/infant through adult, as well as instructions for knitting it in either bulky or super bulky yarn. I'm already planning gifts for others with finished hats from this pattern too, so I do really feel like it is worth it! If you use the super bulky she recommends (although you could use any yarn you like), which is Malabrigo Rasta, you will get 2 hats by reversing the colors. Here is my first finished hat in a Valentine's theme:

I'm awaiting my order of gorgeous lush pom poms, and I have to share my new favorite pom pom shop on Etsy, which is North Star Stitches! I'm not normally a pom pom gal, but the featured photos on this hat really sold me on how a well coordinated pom pom really makes the design pop! For my pink/mint hats, I ordered a few poms to try in shades of blush, white and blue/green. I'm sooooooo excited for these to arrive! I'm going to be making a lot of hats this year, I'll share more about that endeavor next week!

What skill or idea have you always wanted to take a class on? I would love to hear about it in the comments!

Friday, January 15, 2021

Winter crochet projects this week for Creative Idea Friday...

Hi everyone! I hope your wintry January's are moving along nicely. :) I know that I'm in the minority, but I actually like January, gray skies and all. Part of it is that my wedding anniversary is in January, part of it is that I enjoy the cozy feeling of deep winter. Speaking of wedding anniversaries, Mike and I celebrated ours on the 8th (16 years!) and as is the thing this year, it was different than usual. Romantic takeout, cocktails at home, and watching of The Crown marked our anniversary dinner this year, ha ha! But you know, it was absolutely delightful!

In other deep winter news, I've been hard at work on crafting. I started a baby sweater for Allison!

This is a Baby Surprise Jacket, one of my favorite baby patterns of all time. You knit what appears to be a blog, and when you sew 2 small seams, voila! It's a baby sweater. :0 It's moving along quite quickly, hoping to have a finished sweater to show you next week! 

But onto crochet, as that is our main theme for this week! I was listening to the We Crochet podcast this week (which I highly recommend, btw, if you're at all interested in crafts. I listen to their sister podcast, Connecting Threads, even though I don't sew, and really enjoy it!) and they got me all excited for a specifically crochet winter focus. The newest edition of their magazine includes a winter themed collection called Wintertide that I am really jazzed about now:

We Crochet Magazine, Issue 5

I do love projects that are themed after winter, as distinct from the holidays. I love holiday projects too, but they are different to me: there are holiday themed items, and then specifically winter themed items that have a cozy, warming feel, and often inspired by winter colors like blues white, and purples. Needless to say, this magazine is in my cart over at We Crochet. :0

Blankets are one of my favorite winter projects, because they keep you warm *while* you make them, so they do double duty! Each New Year, I am inspired by the Attic 24 blanket CAL (crochet -along) and despite having plenty of blankets in my house, I could not resist this year's edition, especially given our continuing pandemic situation. It's the perfect project to work on while snugged up at home! This year, the theme is a Meadow inspired blanket:

Attic 24 Meadow Blanket CAL

And aside from weaving in ends, I completed part 1 this week!

Once you get the stitch pattern down, this is a great and soothing tv watching project. If you're at all interested in crochet, I encourage you to give this a try! I would say it's advanced beginner level, and Lucy includes a step-by-step tutorial with tons of pictures, so you can do it, I know you can! Any yarn you like will do, but Wool Warehouse has the special yarn packs with the colors the designer picked specificaly for this blanket. Even with the current delayed shipping situation (and Wool Warehouse is in the UK), I got my pack within 2 weeks, which I think is amazing speed! But obviously you could also approximate these colors at your local craft store with a nice soft acrylic in worsted or dk. She just released part 2 of the colors today (it's week by week, but you can catch up super easily and work at your own pace!) and I'm sooooo looking forward to working on this over the weekend!

I've also been busily learning to play my finger cymbals, but that's a post for another day. 🀣 How are you doing this week, dear reader? What projects are you working on this January? Sending you lots of hearts this winter!

Friday, January 8, 2021

Creative Idea Fridays for the winter, and some cute crafting updates!

 Merry Christmas everyone, and happy New Year! I'm very glad to be back with you for another year of fun chatting about creativity, crafty hobbies, wellness, prayer and books. 


I hope that you all had lovely holidays this year. Ours were quiet, we certainly missed seeing family the way we usually do, but we still made a very nice time of it and truly enjoyed it. The kids are happy and healthy, and that's all that matters!

For my part, I did alot of knitting, and with a white Christmas and everybody home, it was the perfect cozy time for it! In big news, I finished frog and toad!

*trumpets blare*

Aren't they cute?

Let's have a closeup on the outfits, please.

Pattern available via Frog and Toad Cast. This includes instructions for both critters, plus both of their outfits!

I definitely enjoyed the challenges involved in knitting these two, especially the steeking for the eyes! I tell you, I needed a sip of wine to work up the courage to make that first snip into my knitted baby frog. πŸ˜‚ But it worked out, and it's so exhilerating to try new things!

I've also been enjoying my dancing from home this winter. Looky what Santa brought me this year!

I've been taking ballet classes on Zoom, and this portable, adjustable barre is soooooo much nicer to use than the back of Mike's desk chair. 😁 The feet swivel in for against the wall storage when not in use. It's perfect for me, and I absolutely love it! 

The other new dancey project that I have taken on is something within my main dance passion of Egyptian style belly dance, but is completely new to me: finger cymbals.


Finger cymbals are...scary to me. :-0 As you can imagine, it is challenging to both play a musical instrument (one that is completely new to me), plus dance at the same time. Within Egyptian style belly dance, while you certainly see dancers and musicians playing finger cymbals (called Sagat), they aren't quite as common as in Turkish style belly dance. Here in North America, you often see dancers performing a style of belly dance called American Cabaret, which is a melding of belly dance influences, including Turkish. So those dancers are usually playing the finger cymbals (referred to in this context as zills), and American viewers often become familiar with them via seeing a dancer performing in this style in a restaurant. I've never studied with a teacher who instructs in American Cabaret style (though I've taken a few workshops in Turkish dance, which I LOVED, especially the folk dances, although the finger cymbals segment was a total disaster for me 🀣), so I've never received any long term formal instruction in playing finger cymbals. As part of my goals for the year, I have resolved to learn!

It helps that my favorite online teacher started a session for them as part of her daily drills series, and this format is absolutely perfect for a budding learner of finger cymbals. Everyday at lunchtime, Monday through Thursday, for 30 minutes, I sit in front of my laptop and drill finger cymbal sounds and patterns with her. Yesterday we (gulp) stood up to also do some simple hip drops and traveling steps while playing the cymbals. It's structured as a slow building process, which is exactly what I need. Each day this week, I could feel myself being slightly less bad at it, LOL! But it's coming along. And the thrill of taking on something totally new and intimidating like this has me in a very excited place! 

So! What we'll be doing here on the blog until Lent are a creativity focus that I'm calling Creative Idea Fridays, and then sometime in February we'll turn to Lenten planning and strategies. Maybe we'll do a Lenten book club? We'll see! I'm excited to see what kind of inspiration strikes! 

Do you have any goals for the new year? I would love to hear about them in the comments!