Saturday, 5 September 2015

Feeling Small in the Face of the Syrian Crisis

This is the week where my newsfeed erupted with pictures of dead Syrian babies, the week where for once I struggled to correct my own daughter who caught a glimpse of one of the pictures and commented “baby sleeping”. The picture put me in mind of another one, this time a mental image, of Mennonite babies succumbing to hypothermia as families fled massacre & terror across the frozen Steppe. And I thought of how I live in a country populated by immigrants & refugees. We, their children & grandchildren, are the lucky ones. Can we fail to be less generous to those suffering now, when the foundation of our present good fortune was built by those who lost much and risked much and found a safe haven in North America?

Everyone seems to agree that an indefinable something needs to change, although there is no consensus on what. We’re not sure how much we should be politicizing one photo, because we aren’t quite sure at what point an impetus for change simply becomes exploitation for political agenda in an election year. Should we be focusing on pressuring to increase refugee quotas or on finding reputable charities to give aid to those left in refugee camps? Should countries be letting in illegal migrants, or will that only make an unsolvable problem worse?

I sit here, trying to figure out how much to tune in or out. To do nothing in the face of horror seems inhuman, yet most actions seem so futile when one considers the actual size of the crisis. It's like putting a bandaid on a gaping wound. We may even effect change but it’s not going to solve the actual problem, because even if we could somehow fix the Syria problem, the problem of war & terror & refugees & dead babies would move to another group & another country (only a year ago we were clamoring about Boko Haram and kidnapped girls).

Yet every life saved, every piece of aid or relief given, is an act of mercy even in the face of unending evil. It is our participation in these works of mercy, our small voices united into a clamour against the evil that men bring against men, that allows us to retain the goodness, the conscience, of our humanity. I have no solutions beyond that, but I know that we must continue to care and to clamour and to do whatever part is given to us to counter evil with love.

“There is no oppression of a group of people but that which has its root and inception in the hearts of the oppressors. There is no wild lawlessness and riot and bloodlust of a mob but that which has its place in the hearts of the persons who are that mob. Just so, if justice and fairness and kindness fill the minds of a crowd of persons, those things will be shown in their actions. So, if we are eager to help in putting the world to rights, our first duty is to put ourselves right, to overcome our selfishness and be as eager that others shall be treated fairly as we are that no advantage shall be taken of ourselves; and to deal justly and have a loving charity and mercy for others as we wish them to have for us”. – Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1919

Saturday, 8 August 2015

In which I finally get around to posting about our unusual Christmas

I’ve reached the point in life where I’m realising, if not always practicing, that to truly live & enjoy life to the fullest means making the best of what we have, even when it’s less than ideal. That was an attitude that I really had to bring to the table for Christmas 2014, because my new job required that I be in the office for Christmas Day & Boxing Day.

Of course there was a lot to be thankful for – a job in a field that I enjoy, a place of our own, family nearby, double-time-and-a-half pay... but that doesn’t quite compensate for having to work on one of the biggest days of Christian celebration, a day which our Church says should be “free from servile labour”, and a day where I wanted to be at home in my pjs, enjoying Christmas magic through the eyes of my children. I view it is a sign of my being a grownup with responsibilities that I managed to not complain about working on the holiday, on all holidays, much...aside from one or two meltdowns to David.
I was not the only one who had a meltdown, although clearly I deserve to suffer for making this one suffer by taking away her Christmas snacks
There were some minor Christmas miracles which helped. Yes, I did have to be in the office on Christmas Day AND Boxing Day. But I got Christmas Eve off and my Christmas Day hours were at least early enough that I was home before 4pm, which meant I still got a good chunk of Christmas afternoon & evening. And our children are still too little to know about dates. So I did the only logical thing I could do, which was to combine our Christmas Eve & Christmas Day traditions onto the 24th, and to spend the 25th in the manner of the Boxing Days I remember as a kid (ie presents from Grandparents & visiting around plates of snacks).

I’d like to sugar coat it, but a lot of things this year did feel a bit off. It was weird opening presents on Christmas Eve morning. But we still managed to have a lot of fun. David & the children really outdid themselves with my present, sending me on a treasure hunt through the house, where clues led to more clues (and chocolate bears!) and the whole needed to be assembled to create the map that led to my present’s location (a beautiful Anne of Green Gables necklace). The kids were really engaged in their presents this year, with Annie enjoying all the treats in her stocking and Walter enthusiastically tearing into his train & train station packages.

We followed our usual routine of stockings, followed by Christmas breakfast (this year waffles & peameal bacon), followed by baby naps, followed by big presents. And then it was time to revert to our normal Christmas Eve routine – Mass, a dinner I didn’t have to cook, and The Muppet’s Christmas Carol.

What to do when you don't have Christmas stockings or a mantle
Christmas Mass is often bittersweet for me, as I’ve spent most of my Catholic Christmases either away from my parents or away from my husband. This year’s seemed mostly like a tragic comedy, which was really frustrating as I had hoped for a nice family Mass. Although we got to the church 15 minutes early (which, with toddlers, is basically like arriving an hour early when it comes to keeping them entertained) the only place to sit was in the hall, with no view of the Mass (just bad audio). And a lot of the parents could not be bothered at all to keep control of their children, so we had a really hard time convincing our guys that now was not the time to run races around the hall with the other children. I was really cross.

We returned home to one near disaster, namely that after 5 years (1/6th of my life!) abroad I was so used to British customs (pubs open!) that it didn’t occur to me on any meaningful level that Canadian eateries would close ridiculously early on Christmas Eve. By the time I had gotten the children to bed it looked like we would be going without dinner, as our usual pizza place was closed and the others were looking unlikely. Fortunately David is a trooper and found number after number for me to call until we finally found a Little Caesar’s open & willing to deliver. We kicked back with pizza, wings, and a delicious bottle of wine that our landlords had given us for Christmas. Evening salvaged thanks to St Anthony & my husband!

On Christmas Day I took myself to the office, where I sulked at my computer until inspired to put on the Vatican’s Youtube Channel and listen to the Christmas Mass. I followed this with the Festival of Lessons & Carols from King’s College, Cambridge, and I confess that I may have shed a few tears behind the wall of my monitors in a sorrow for the life we have been forced to leave. Christmas is an emotional time. But at least my company sprang for lunch, and everyone was in a relatively jolly mood because we were all going home to families & fun once the work was over, and in my case my parents were picking me up after work and we were going to my house for Christmas Part II.

Singing "Happy Birthday" to Baby Jesus
This was the first Christmas Day in six years that I’ve spent with my family. My mum outdid herself with presents, so much so that she started making excuses for herself, and we all had a cozy evening enjoying our gifts, eating appies & sweets, and basking in the Christmas glow. David was particularly excited to find out that he was getting his long-desired stereo speakers as a gift from all of us. It was a really lovely end to the day, even if it was a really unusual Christmas.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Menu Plan Monday: 16/05 - 22/05

We’ve been celebrating the start of summer with May Long weekend. My menu was planned before I noticed that the mercury was rising. I think this is going to be our last week of hearty comfort foods for awhile.

Linking up with Menu Plan Monday at 

Saturday: Buffalo wings; cornbread; sauteed kale, apricot beer 
It’s a long weekend and we’re kicking it off in style with some relaxed finger food. I’ve combined my mum’s brining method with two of Chef Michael Smith’s chicken wing recipes to make the ultimate in baked wings. So good!

Sunday: Jen’s Parmesan chicken & popovers, baked sweet potato, organic rainbow baby carrots
I decided to use up the last of the frozen chicken breasts on one of David’s favourite meals. Feasting on Sundays!

Monday: Muscarella marinated rib eye steaks; garlic & parsley potatoes; mushrooms with garlic; margaritas
Our big grill-friendly meal to end the long weekend.

Tuesday: Cuban sandwiches; fries; broccoli & cheese tots
We ended up doing pizza night early last week (and then went for parmesan salmon on Friday – yum), so we’ll be indulging in cubans tomorrow.

Wednesday: Leftover lasagna; green peas
A perfect midweek meal as it just involves reheating. This might be a good night to bake a cake!

Thursday: Ikea Meatball Dinner 
This is one of David’s favourites. The meatballs are actually pretty good and it’s a super easy meal to pull together.

Friday: Pizza night!

Friday, 15 May 2015

7 Quick Takes -- Vol. 22

--- 1 ---
Quotes of the Week 
D: Maybe when you grow up, Annie, you’ll be a famous scientist.
A: NO. Famous scientist BABY.

Annie, singing softly to her baby doll:
Hush hush baybee, no cwy baybee.

Quizzing Walter (Bobay) on the Bible story of Jesus & the little children:
M: And what did the disciples say?
W: Oh, hi Bobay!
M: okkkkkkk...and what did Jesus say?
W: Hi Bobay too!
--- 2 ---
Sunday was Mother’s Day. The day was a bit of a difficult one, as HeWhoShallNotBeNamed decided that it would be a really great idea to throw tantrums all day. And we were in the final throws of David’s latest round of publication craziness, meaning that us adults were both exhausted. But of course I still had a lovely time – they’d made me the most wonderful Mother’s Day card (from an upcycled Christmas card and featuring “the white ashes of love” and we went for an amazing sushi lunch at this all you can eat place that my brother recommended. Lunch was fantastic, both with the food, the happy babies, and the dining experience of incredibly surly wait-staff who seemed to really resent having to serve us all we could eat! Annie ate 1.5 bowls of udon while I enjoyed sharing a plate with Walter. Trying to feed a toddler with chopsticks was an hilarious experience – I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.

--- 3 ---
Speaking of laughing, I’ve been listening to the “Fountains of Carrots” podcast at work and it is amazing. I laugh, I cry, I probably appear insane to all those around me... These ladies share my taste in books, art, and faith. I can’t get enough! This recent podcast on "The Art of Making Do" is one of my absolute favourites. It was so encouraging listening to another working mum speak about parenting & life & faith. All this great common sense came through the conversation, like how we do what’s best for OUR families, even if that doesn’t look like what’s best for someone else’s family. It made my heart happy to hear the acknowledgement that sometimes both parents have to work because those are the cards life dealt them, not because they should just be better at budgeting or are sacrificing their family on an altar of money. Most of the other young mum’s I know are able to stay at home, so it can get a bit lonely feeling at times because my days are so different.
--- 4 ---
Book of the Week This week I finished reading Kipling’s Indian Tales. I liked about 50% of the stories. The good ones were really good, but the rest of the book was a bit hard to follow or just “meh”. David agreed, so now I know I’m not just missing something.
--- 5 ---
My cousin Tara just had a darling baby girl. I made her this:

--- 6 ---
A month ago, we made a good dent in the stock at Sikora – they had an amazing sale for Record Store Day. We’ve been listening to one album of beautiful music each night since then. It’s been a treat! Alas, we’ve now exhausted all of our purchases aside from some big boxed opera sets. Good thing a stack of Stompin’ Tom & Chad Mitchell just arrived yesterday.
--- 7 ---
Album of the Week For Mother’s Day the gang gave me a sealed copy of the Mitchell Trio’s 1963 album “The Best of the Chad Mitchell Trio”. It was very exciting getting a sealed LP of one of my favourite North American folk groups! The album is mostly humorous songs with a few traditional folk & gospel songs added for good measure. I really liked comparing the recordings on this album to others of the same songs. I felt that the album went at a slower pace and that the music was a little less theatrical than some of their later works. We had a really great time listening through the album once the kids went to sleep. This is one of my favourites: 

 For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain't the Lyceum!

Monday, 11 May 2015

Menu Plan Monday: 9/5 - 15/5

I am amazed at how much extra time I can find most days now that I’m done work at 5 instead of 6:30 – reclaiming that 1.5hrs where it counts! I’ve been able to enjoy meal planning again, and right now I even have a loaf of bread setting in my bread machine. If you’d told me this a few months ago I would’ve laughed at you and then cried.

Linking up with Menu Plan Monday at

Saturday: Tara’s Meat Lasagna; Caesar salad
It’s actually Kate’s meat lasagna, but my wonderful cousin Tara brought us over a dish of it when we first moved to Burnaby and I loved it. It has all the delicious cheesiness of my MIL’s lasagna, but it takes 3/4s of the time to make. It is a great way to use up the ricotta & cream cheese bits I have leftover from other cooking endeavors before they go green.

Sunday: Roast Beef; Rice & Peas; Popovers; Green Peas; Gravy
This was my mother’s day gift to myself – one of my favourite meals! Last time I made Jamaican rice & peas I made sure to do the full recipe, which easily serves 8+ people. I used my mum’s roast recipe, which mostly involves forgetting it for three hours, and popovers are super easy with my magic bullet to make the batter. And I like to make one giant batch of gravy and then freeze it into small portions. Long story short, this meal was a no brainer to prepare & was exactly what I was looking for.

Monday: Bacon-wrapped steaks; steak fries; roasted asparagus; sautéed mushrooms with garlic Steak and fries is one of our favourite weeknight meals right now. We love the chunky steak cut fries and cooking up steaks takes no time and no effort. I like to pan-sear them on a high heat and then sauté mushrooms & garlic around them. Easy peasy.

Tuesday: Leftover Pot Roast Stroganoff; broccoliYes, I’m still upcycling Sunday Roast leftovers. This is my first time doing a beef stroganoff, since we usually do pork, but my mum made one a while back that was spicy & delicious so I’m going to give it a go even tho’ I usually dislike beef in creamy sauces. We shall see.

Wednesday: Lemony Chicken Orzo Soup & CornbreadThe soup takes little effort to make from scratch but this week we’re just heating up leftovers. I can whip together cornbread in no time so it will be an easy & tasty meal.

Thursday: Cuban Sandwiches; fries; sauteed kaleCubans are such a great way to use up leftover roast pork when there’s not a lot leftover. And my mum had come by with a giant ham on her last visit, so I snuck a few pieces off to make Cubans with. These will be melty & hot & a wonderful boost of fresh made fast food to get us over the Thursday blahs.

Friday: Pizza night!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Our Quest for a Parish -- some thoughts on the TLM & why I love Dominicans

Moving back to Canada, especially moving to a metropolis, has brought with it all the fun & frustrations of finding a new parish to call home. In Greater Vancouver there are too many choices and unfortunately none are within walking distance of our home. This is the first time in ten years that I haven’t lived within reasonable walking distance of a parish and it is rather frustrating at times – more on that later.

Because we aren’t within walking distance of a Catholic Church, we had to approach the whole “find a new parish” question a bit differently. Did we go with a parish in our city? A parish in our transit zone? A parish near the sky train? Or do we seek out a longer commute for a unique parish community?

The initial answer when we moved here was the last one. Over the years my fondness for Latin has developed into a love of the Latin Mass, both the ordinary & extraordinary! In Cambridge we often attended the 9am Latin Mass at our dear Fisher House, and when we went to Berlin it made sense for us to attend the nearby Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) parish as we had an easier time with the Latin than we would’ve with the German. So when I reminded David that Vancouver boasts a TLM parish, he thought that would be a good place to start our search for a parish.

If you ever get me started on the Latin Mass I could probably bend your ear for a good hour or so. It really carries the dignitas that I believe is fitting for the Mass. After all, Christ is coming to us in the flesh – our worship should be a fitting reflection of that blessed miracle. I’ve written elsewhere about why I wear a head covering and perhaps one day I’ll write about why I love altar rails (in short – it means those of us with bad knees can still kneel to receive Holy Communion). Because the TLM is relatively rare, we are often blessed with the best of the best when it comes to liturgy & music. These are communities offering all their talents in creating something beautiful and worthy, communities formed with a real commitment to the beauty & sanctity of the Mass. I don’t believe that this is only possible in TLM parishes, in fact I know from personal experience that it’s not, but the reality is that not every church has the willing resources/enthusiasm/encouragement to make this happen. Yes, it is in Latin. No, that doesn’t mean you need to have studied Latin extensively to get it. There are always handy little books with translations into English (or German or Spanish or Cantonese). And the homily is, get this, in the vernacular. And if you can manage “amen” and “et cum spiritu tuo” you’ve got down most of the responses right there. See, I’ve just made you into an instant expert.

Our experiences at Holy Family were, for the most part, wonderful. The community was so welcoming of our whole family and the parish is full of children so the antics of two more restless toddlers were mere drops in the pond. I found that the older children at the parish were very helpful & polite and that there was a nice level of sympathy & commiseration between all of the mothers (and some fathers!) who ended up spending most of the Mass trying to quiet their restless/active/tantruming children in the back. It is the only parish I have been to where I have felt that my children’s age-appropriate behavior was just that – age appropriate, expected, and understood. It’s not that other parishes I’ve attended are anti-child by any means, but I suppose it’s just that the sheer numbers of young families at Holy Family meant that young families/large families were in the majority. After Mass there was always a lunch & social time in the hall, and on any special feast days there was a potluck. It’s a rare treat to see a parish that is so connected as a community.

There is a streak of ultra-conservatism present among some of the people attracted to TLM that I’m not comfortable with, but to be fair there is a streak of ultra-liberalism among some of the people attracted to some regular parishes so you just have to sort the wheat from the chaff... At times it was frustrating running up against certain attitudes, especially from certain people who really should know better, so my heart wasn’t 100% happy. I loved the community, loved the liturgy, but worried about some of the attitudes we’ve run across. Can I stress again that this isn’t a TLM problem? It’s a people problem , an education problem perhaps, and it’s something we could’ve, would’ve, continued to work past. Unfortunately it was taking us over an hour to commute to Mass and until recently Sunday was the first day of my weekend, meaning that I was inevitably exhausted on Sunday morning and getting out the door at 9:30 was hard. It also rains a really absurd amount here and we don’t have a car, and getting to the church was a rather long journey of train & bus transfers. Mass attendance was dropping worryingly low.

It was time to find an interim solution. We started off by heading one city over to a parish in New Westminster. The plus side was that the church was just off of the train line we live near. The down sides were its position on top of a ridiculously steep hill and its possible leanings towards that airy-fairy-“spirit of Vatican II” culture that I’d already had enough of when we left BC in 2006 (it seems to be endemic in this part of our fair country).

Back to the drawing board, or more specifically the Google Map board. There was another parish on our train line, although it was one zone over (which in mercenary terms means that it costs twice as much to get there Mon-Fri before 6:30pm). The downside is that it is huge, although we’ve been cultivating a pride in how large the parish is. To give an idea, there is a Mass every 2-3 hours from sunrise to sunset on Sunday, and even with the large sanctuary & balcony & crying room it is still standing room only at every Mass. It is difficult to find a place in such a large community, especially given our limited free time, but in time, in time... and at least with so many Masses on Sundays it is a lot easier to go even when Sunday morning isn’t working.

The biggest plus for me about this parish is that it is run by Dominicans. Cambridge certainly inspired me with a love for Dominicans, and the preaching at St Mary’s has not disappointed (Fr Gabe!). It even got the seal of approval from my [Baptist] mother. The music may be a little more modern than I am naturally attracted to, but the choir is good nonetheless. It’s not overflowing with large young families, but it has its fair share of noisy toddlers & babies, meaning that mine aren’t the only ones causing shenanigans, and Fr Gabe in particular has always gone out of his way to make young families, us, feel welcome. And on more mundane notes, we can get there & back again on one ticket if we rush AND there is a Tim Horton’s coffee shop less than three minutes from the church!

David & I still discuss our parish options. We’ve moved to new cities so many times that I know it’s not a simple matter of finding a parish and sticking to it. It would be different if we lived within walking distance of one, but as we don’t I feel we have some flexibility to look around. We both miss attending the TLM, but there are the practicalities to consider. Right now I am mostly just grateful that we have the options of amazing liturgy & fantastic preaching in the Archdiocese of Vancouver. The rest will sort itself out in time.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Our Liturgical Year -- Part II

Continuing the recap of how we try to follow our Church's feasts & fasts with two toddlers underfoot. You can find Part I over here.

I will be covering off our 2014 Christmas celebrations in a separate post, but this is the rough idea. There’s always lots going on between December 22nd (David’s birthday) & January 7th (Ukrainian Christmas) so it’s a fun couple of weeks:
  •  we always go to a Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve and do dinner out/take away to keep the day low on stress & rushing. 
  •  we bake a birthday cake for Baby Jesus. The children decorate it and on Christmas Day we sing Happy Birthday & blow out candles. This is something my parents always did with me and I love it. 
I'm pretty sure this is around the time they discovered that the sprinkles were delicious.
  •  we celebrate the Feast of Christmas until January 7th. The Feast of the Epiphany (Wisemen visiting Jesus) is the end of the 12 Days of Christmas, but I also like to do a nod to my Ukrainian heritage by celebrating Ukrainian Christmas on January 7th. 
Cabbage rolls, perogies, sausage, & pickles. Could it get any better?
  •  Santa fills stockings & we all get presents to help Baby Jesus celebrate His birthday. Because the children are so little I’ve found that they have an easy time understanding that Baby Jesus is having a birthday party but because He loves them He is giving them presents, instead of just receiving presents. 
With no good place to hang stockings, and no nice stocking to hang anyway, we went the gumboot route.
40 days of penance, fasting, & abstinence. As the children grow I hope to include more family prayers etc, but right now less is more for small attention spans and it seems this year we have definitely marked the season out as different.
  •  Shrove Tuesday will forever be “pancake day” in my mind thanks to our years in Cambridge. Even the pubs served pancakes! So we make sure that we have pancakes for a meal or for dessert that day.
Crepes with a homemade chocolate orange filling. She was a happy baby. 
  •  My children love singing “alleluia”, so this year I printed off an “alleluia” colouring page which they coloured in. We then had a procession through the house, singing alleluia. Then we “buried” it in the closet, where it’s staying until Easter, at which point it will come out & stay on their bedroom door. They’ve fallen in line with the liturgy & there are no alleluias to be sung in this house until Easter. I’ve had many a good laugh at hearing them remind whomever lapses – usually a “no alleluia, Baby Annie, no alleluia” from Walter or a “no ‘leu-ya” from Annie. 
A brief moment of team work. 
  • Ash Wednesday we go to Mass and everyone gets a cross. We wear ours all day, and again it’s something that I find is a good point of conversation. 
  •  Us grownups have our various Lenten sacrifices & fasts, but for the kids we’ve stuck with the “no alleluias” and it is working really well this year. 
  •  We have a “Lenten path” colouring page on our fridge. We colour in one square each evening and see how close we’re getting to Easter. It’s been a big hit & Walter loves showing it off to anyone who comes over. 
How our pathway looked on Holy Saturday
  • We’ll be taking down/veiling all of our religious images & statues as we get closer to Holy Week. (in theory. This year that proved to be one thing too much!)
Holy Week is really difficult with two small children. The Masses are beautiful, but long, and with two children there’s not much chance of getting through the Easter Vigil. It’s a major sacrifice for me to give up these Masses, but for family harmony I need to let go – it makes the whole celebration a lot more stressful otherwise. When they are old enough to sit through the Vigil I think we’ll turn it into a special rite of passage. It’s a beautiful, ancient liturgy and so very special, but it does go on for 2-3 hours and that is so hard with toddlers. One of the blogs I read suggested trying to do something at home to mark the events of each day (Last Supper, Crucifixion, etc) and I am going to have a think about that, because I think it will make it a little more meaningful for the children. But I haven’t figured all that out yet. What I do know:

  • We’ll all be making Easter baskets, which will be filled & ready for morning on Easter Sunday. A little chocolate, candy, small toy, & their new Easter clothes will go a long way to spreading some extra joy that morning!
It ended up being evening since their Baba wanted to be there to watch them open their baskets. It was a lot of fun!
  • Easter Eggs will be dyed. Nothing fancy but still a lot of messy fun. They were really proud of their eggs last year
A bonus for me -- my mum took the eggs home with her so I didn't have to figure out what to do with a dozen hard boiled eggs (ok, it wouldn't have been hard -- salad lyonaise is the obvious answer)
  • Alleluias will ring loud & clear, and so will the Easter music.
  • We celebrate Easter for eight weeks, until Pentecost. So, family visits & dinners, a few extra treats, and a lot of excitement.