Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ancient, whiskery and long-eared I am

Which sci-fi character am I?


Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

A venerated sage with vast power and knowledge, you gently guide forces around you while serving as a champion of the light.

Judge me by my size, do you? And well you should not - for my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us, and binds us. Luminescent beings are we, not this crude matter! You must feel the Force around you, everywhere.

May 4th: Belgium - Our Lady of Banneux

Feast Day: January 15th

The shrine of Our Lady of the Poor, near the city of Liège in the Flemish village of Banneux. Devotion to Mary began as a result of an apparition to a poor twelve-year-old Belgian child in the garden of her home on January 16, 1933. Our Lady told her that she had come to relieve the ills and sufferings of the poor of all nations. A painting on the wall of the village's chapel made according to the child's description shows Mary robed in white with a blue sash and with a rosary over her right arm. On January 18, 1933, the child's father, an avowed atheist, accompanied his daughter to the garden, and although he did not see the Virgin he was instantly converted, overwhelmed in the presence of an unseen power. After years of investigation, the Holy See authorized public devotion to Our Lady of Banneux, patroness of the poor, in 1942. Formal approval was given by the Bishop of Liège in 1949, and a statue of that title was solemnly crowned in 1956. Pilgrims from many countries came to worship at the shrine. Over one hundred shrines throughout the world are dedicated to Our Lady of Banneux. (Fr. John A. Hardon)

The story of the apparitions of Our Lady of Banneux by Ann Ball is online at Holy Spirit Interactive, and would be suitable for reading to children.

This Mary Vitamin is devoted to Our Lady of Banneux.

You can visit the shrine at Banneux with this You Tube video.

Some words of Our Lady at Banneux:

"I am the Virgin of the Poor."
"I come to relieve suffering."
"My dear child, pray much. Au revoir."

Our Lady of Banneux Coloring Book by Mary Fabian Windeatt
The Woman Clothed with the Sun: Rue de Bac, Beauraing and Banneux (DVD) - this covers the apparitions at Rue de Bac, Paris (the Miraculous Medal) and Beauraing in Belgium as well as Banneux.

Prayer Our Lady of Banneux, Blessed Virgin of the Poor, look with favor on us, your poor, suffering children. Hear our prayers, and draw us daily to the Living Water.

May 3rd: Austria - Our Lady of Mariazell

Feast Day: September 13th

The most famous place of pilgrimage to Mary in Central Europe, high in the Austrian Alps. Its origins go back to 1154, when Magnus, a Benedictine monk, retired from the abbey at Lambrecht to live a more contemplative life. He carried with him a twenty-two-inch simple statue of Mary and her infant Son. He lost his way in the woods near Graatz, and night found him facing a high rock that he could neither climb nor go around. He placed the statue on a log while he prayed to Our Lady for direction. The high black rock suddenly split in two and light shone forth from its severed edges. He realized that Mary had led him there and wanted to be honored in that place. He built a small hermitage with a tree stump for a pedestal to hold the statue. About a century later a neighboring prince and his wife were seriously ill. Being told in a dream to go to the hermitage and pray, they were cured. In gratitude they built a church on the spot. The statue of Our Lady of Mariazell, though over eight hundred years old, has never shown any sign of wear or decay. The Madonna is seated, her dress is white, with a blue mantle. The Infant holds an apple in his hand. Mary is holding a pear. The first church replacing the small chapel was built in 1200. In 1340 the King of Hungary erected a larger church to accommodate the pilgrims. In the seventeenth century the present Baroque edifice was built. The Austro-Hungarian rulers considered it their most cherished shrine. Veneration to Mary and her Son continued under all vicissitudes until grave war dangers forced a temporary concealment of the treasured statue. This shrine has maintained its Austrian character though it has been a haven to people from many nations. In 1975 Cardinal Mindszenty was buried at Mariazell, his personally designated final resting place.(Fr. John A. Hardon)
This website set up to chronicle the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Austria for the 850th anniversary of the shrine of Mariazell in September 2007 has detailed information and many pictures. I particularly liked this one of the monk Marcus arriving at Mariazell:

To prepare for the Pope's visit the bishops asked Austrians to pray this prayer from his encyclical Deus Caritas:
Holy Mary, Mother of God, you have given the world its true light, Jesus, your Son – the Son of God. You abandoned yourself completely to God's call and thus became a wellspring of the goodness which flows forth from him. Show us Jesus. Lead us to him. Teach us to know and love him, so that we too can become capable of true love and be fountains of living water in the midst of a thirsting world”.
The website for the Basilica of Mariazell includes an extensive panoramic tour. Click on the green circles for a 360 degree view from that spot. The site also has pictures and details of other holy places at Mariazell.

(Picture: BBC News)

If I was travelling to Mariazell I would want to take a ride on The Pilgrim's Railway, the Mariazellerbahn.

This prayer comes from the website of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at Washington:
Prayer to Our Lady of Mariazell
O Mary, we call upon you.
You are the Great Mother of Austria,
the Mother of the Slavic peoples.
You offer a safe haven for the exiled;
you bring freedom and consolation to prisoners.
We ask you holiest of all virgins, to guard innocence and purity.
Help us in all our needs, assist us in danger when we call upon you.
O Mary, guardian of the German Lands,
we pray that you may banish the scourges of war and bring peace to all believers. Through your powerful intercession, console the disillusioned, bring back the erring, comfort the sick, and give hope to sinners.
Great Mother Mary, Our Lady of Mariazell,
bless and protect the people who honor you.

May 2nd: Argentina - Our Lady of Lujan

Feast Day: May 8th

Argentine shrine, forty miles west of Buenos Aires. Its main object of devotion is a small doll-like statue of the Blessed Virgin; her head is surrounded by a golden aureole and is crowned with hundreds of diamonds and other precious stones. The Basilica of Our Lady of Luján is the most important pilgrimage center in Argentina. According to legend, in 1639 a peasant from Cordova, wishing to revive his neighbors' "belief in their early faith," ordered two statues from Brazil, one of the Immaculate Conception, the other the Blessed Virgin and her Son. When the caravan delivering them reached a small ranch on the outskirts of Luján, the driver could not urge the horses on until the statue of the Immaculate Conception was removed, indicating Mary's own choice of where her shrine should be. The treasured statue went through many housing vicissitudes. One Negro grew from boyhood to old age guarding her first in a small chapel, then in a church, then in a larger edifice. As the number of miracles grew, the crowds also grew larger. In 1910 an impressive cathedral was completed and today it is one of the world's famous shrines to Mary honored by papal coronation. Since 1930 the cathedral has been raised to the rank of a basilica. Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay now all claim The Lady of Luján as their official protectress. (Fr. John A. Hardon)
More detail is given at Hispanic Online and in this article by Zsolt Aradi at Catholic Culture.

The Church of Lujan was raised to the status of a basilica by Pope Pius XI in 1930. Over a million people take part in the main annual pilgrimage, and the shrine is visited by six million people every year.

Here is some general information about Mary in Argentina. Three major Argentine cities - Buenos Aires, Rosario and Mercedes - are named after Our Lady, as are many other towns and cities.

Finally, here is Pope John Paul II's homily at the Argentine National Church in Rome on the occasion of the enthronement of an image of Our Lady of Lujan in 1998.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

May 1st: Algeria - Our Lady of Africa

Feast Day: April 30th

Our Lady of Africa: Ancient shrine at Algiers, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. It was originally a small statue of the Madonna, set in a frame of shells at a spot often visited by Barbary robbers. Fishermen came there to pray for safe voyages. In time, the grotto became a chapel and eventually a large church. A great miracle made the revered chapel even better known. Archbishop Lavigerie of Algiers was on his way to Rome accompanied by seven hundred soldiers, priests, and a Trappist abbot when their ship was caught in a violent storm. The crew despaired of the ship's safety. The archbishop had promised the Mother of God a pilgrimage to the shrine of "Our Lady of Africa" if she would save them. The ship was saved and the promise was kept. In 1872 an impressive cathedral was consecrated and now houses the crowned statue of Mary. Pope Pius IX donated the golden diadem with precious stones that Mary, "Consolation of the Afflicted," now wears. At the shrine there are as many Moslem pilgrims as Christian. To the faithful Moslem she is "Lala Meriem," who bestows her favors. The Holy See has entrusted the care of the sanctuary to the congregation of White Sisters of Africa. (Fr. John A. Hardon)
I loved this African Madonna and Child picture and chose it to print for Little Cherub as I couldn't find a picture of the Our Lady of Africa statue at Algiers.

I had more luck later when I thought to search in French and found this old prayer card.

Here is the Basilica at Algiers. Wikipedia has a short article on the Basilica and links to more photos. Over the altar of the Basilica is written this prayer:

Our Lady of Africa, pray for us and for the Muslims.

In 1996, a funeral Mass for took place in the Basilica of Our Lady of Africa for seven Cistercian monks from the monastery of Our Lady of Atlas who had been abducted by terrorists and beheaded. This article tells their story, and includes the last testament of the prior, Father Christian. This is what he wrote to the unknown Algerian he anticipated would kill him.
And you, too, my last-minute friend, who would not have known what you were doing; yes, for you too I say this thank-you and this a-diar--to commend you to the God in whose face I see yours. And may he grant to us to find each other, happy thieves, in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both. Amen! Inshallah!"
This site gives a brief history of the Church in Algeria - the modern country includes Carthage, the city of St. Augustine.

There is much information about the Church throughout Africa on the website of the Missionaries of Our Lady of Africa (White Fathers), which is available in an English version. The White Fathers were founded in 1868 by the then archbishop of Algiers under the patronage of Our Lady of Africa. Archbishop Lavigerie told his missionaries
  • you will speak the language of the people
  • you will eat their food
  • you will wear what they wear
Archbishop Lavigerie also founded a sister organisation a year after the White Fathers, the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa (White Sisters)

In 1989 Pope John Paul II visited Africa. You can read his Act of Entrustment of Malawi to Our Lady of Africa here.

Prayer to Our Lady of Africa

Our Lady of Africa, Mother of us all,
be specially mindful of the peoples of Africa.
Gather together all those who follow Jesus Christ.
May they be one in the Church of your Son.
May all those who have not yet recognized Jesus
as the Son of the Father be drawn by his Light.
May all those who have been seized by C
proclaim the Good News by their whole life.
You who were present with the Apostles
at the beginning of the Church,
support the apostles of today
that they may boldly proclaim the Word of God.
(from White Fathers website)

Confessions of a serial murderer

... of vacuum cleaners. After my painful decapitation of Henry last year in a vain attempt to fix his on/off switch, I replaced him with a cheap and cheerful upright hoover.

Last night I did it again. I can't pretend I didn't see the strap of Star's school bag dangling over the floor. I just thought I could nudge round it rather than making the effort to move it. I caught the edge.



Distressed, shrieking hoover death-wail.

Acrid burning smell and smoke.

So that would be that then. Another vacuum cleaner bites the dust. It was a very cheap one, so whatever I have blown out (the motor, I presume) would certainly cost more to fix than the hoover was worth.

But every cloud - or hoover explosion - has a silver lining. I missed him. His replacement was bland and unfriendly. It never smiled at me. It was dull and characterless.

Henry II is on his way ...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Around the World with Our Lady: Resources

As I googled my way around the world, I found a few sites that might whet your appetite for this journey:

Two special buildings have a global Marian theme:
And ... there is a book! The Other Faces of Mary by Ann Ball. Here is a table of contents and sample chapters.

I am planning to get posts up a day or so ahead of time. Watch this space!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Our Lady Around the World: Images

If you would like a preview, I have posted images for each title of Our Lady at First Heralds, together with some very short and simple snippets of information about each one. There are a series of separate posts, to which you can find links here.

A note on copyright
Religious images on the web rarely carry any indication of copyright restrictions, or attribution to any source. Often the same image, or very similar versions, will occur in multiple locations. I am assuming that such images are in the public domain, and have tried to use these where possible. A few images appear more individual, and for these I will add a link underneath to show the internet source. All the images I will be posting are readily available elsewhere on the internet, none are taken from commercial sites, and they are being collected here only for convenience and for personal use.

Our Lady Around the World: Calendar

I promised a series of posts on Our Lady around the world for May and have been busy this week doing my homework (it became addictive!). To whet your appetite, here is a list of the thirty countries I will be visiting and the titles of Our Lady I will be exploring. May 31st is the Feast of the Visitation, so I will not do a post for that day.

  • 1st - Algeria: Our Lady of Africa
  • 2nd - Argentina: Our Lady of Lujan
  • 3rd - Austria: Our Lady of Mariazell
  • 4th - Belgium: Our Lady of Banneux
  • 5th - China: Our Lady of China
  • 6th - Columbia: Our Lady of Chiquinquira
  • 7th - Costa Rica: Our Lady of the Angels
  • 8th - Dominican Republic: Our Lady of Altagracia
  • 9th - Egypt: Our Lady of Zeitun
  • 10th - England: Our Lady of Walsingham
  • 11th - France: Our Lady of Lourdes
  • 12th - Germany: Our Lady of Altotting
  • 13th - India: Our Lady of Vailankanni
  • 14th - Ireland: Our Lady of Knock
  • 15th - Italy: Our Lady of Loreto
  • 16th - Japan: Our Lady of Akita
  • 17th - Kuwait: Our Lady of Arabia
  • 18th - Lebanon: Our Lady of Lebanon
  • 19th - Lithuania: Our Lady of Siluva
  • 20th - Mexico: Our Lady of Guadalupe
  • 21st - New Zealand: Our Lady of Pukekaraka
  • 22nd - Philippines: Our Lady of La Naval
  • 23rd - Poland: Our Lady of Czestochowa
  • 24th - Portugal: Our Lady of Fatima
  • 25th - Russia: Our Lady of Vladimir
  • 26th - Spain: Our Lady of the Pillar
  • 27th - Sri Lanka: Our Lady of Madhu
  • 28th - United States: Our Lady of La Leche
  • 29th - Vietnam: Our Lady of La Vang
  • 30th - Wales: Our Lady of Cardigan
My selection was almost entirely random, although I am pleased to say I managed to include at least one from each continent. Most of the titles and images were new to me, and I was amazed to find just how varied the different stories were ... they range from a shrine that claims to date back to just a decade or so after the resurrection to one that grew up after Our Lady appeared only thirty five years ago; there are shrines that were destroyed and rebuilt hundreds of years later, and one that was destroyed by shellfire less than three weeks ago; there are miraculous cures, miraculous protection, visions and apparitions. I hope others will enjoy learning about these as much as I have.

Pope Benedict's Message to the Jewish Community

Somewhat behind the times I finally got round to reading Pope Benedict's address to the Jewish community on his recent visit to America. His respect for and understanding of the Jewish Passover shone through ... but there was also honest recognition of the differences in the Christian and Jewish perspectives, which makes his acknowledgment of what we have in common more powerful. I know I have a few readers with an interest in things Jewish, so I thought I would share part of his message:

To the Jewish community on the Feast of Pesah

My visit to the United States offers me the occasion to extend a warm and heartfelt greeting to my Jewish brothers and sisters in this country and throughout the world. A greeting that is all the more spiritually intense because the great feast of Pesah is approaching. “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance for ever” (Exodus 12: 14). While the Christian celebration of Easter differs in many ways from your celebration of Pesah, we understand and experience it in continuation with the biblical narrative of the mighty works which the Lord accomplished for his people.

At this time of your most solemn celebration, I feel particularly close, precisely because of what Nostra Aetate calls Christians to remember always: that the Church “received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles” (Nostra Aetate, 4). In addressing myself to you I wish to re-affirm the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on Catholic-Jewish relations and reiterate the Church’s commitment to the dialogue that in the past forty years has fundamentally changed our relationship for the better.

Because of that growth in trust and friendship, Christians and Jews can rejoice together in the deep spiritual ethos of the Passover, a memorial (zikkarôn) of freedom and redemption. Each year, when we listen to the Passover story we return to that blessed night of liberation. This holy time of the year should be a call to both our communities to pursue justice, mercy, solidarity with the stranger in the land, with the widow and orphan, as Moses commanded: “But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this” (Deuteronomy 24: 18).

You can read the rest here.

What a blessing Pope Benedict is for the Church, with his combination of personal gentleness and an incisive and rigorous mind, honed in the pursuit of Truth. He is very different from Pope John Paul II, yet his pontificate is so complementary to his predecessors.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Thursday Thirteen: Past Times

Down memory lane ... thirteen things from my childhood that my children have never known.

  1. Coal - I grew up with coal fires. I remember regular deliveries by the coal man and houses with "coal holes". I doubt my daughters have ever so much as seen a lump of coal.
  2. Records - the black round things with a hole in the middle that came before CDs.
  3. Juke boxes - do you remember putting a coin in the slot, choosing your music and hearing the machine make clunk-clicking noises as it loaded the record.
  4. Mutton - we often had mutton chops and roast mutton on Sundays. Now all mutton is apparently dressed as lamb.
  5. Dripping - spread on bread, or bread fried in dripping (bacon fat). Nobody had heard of cholesterol in those days!
  6. Operator-connected phone calls - yes, I am old enough to remember a time before all telephones were on the direct-dial network.
  7. The test card - no round the clock TV in my childhood. During the times when nothing was transmitted, the BBC used to show the "test card" - a picture intended to demonstrate that yes, you were receiving a signal, but no, there were no programmes to watch. The testcard was, of course, in black and white. (I remember seeing my first ever colour TV in the home of an affluent friend when I was ten.)
  8. Wind-up watches and clocks - no battery operated timepieces in those days. Although my girls have seen a wind-up clock (my mother has an antique grandfather clock), they have certainly never had to remember to wind a watch.
  9. Old money - pounds, shillings and pence. Twelve pence to the shilling, and twenty shillings to the pound. Money problems in arithmetic were not fun, even to the mathematically inclined. ("If John bought a table for £5.13s.4d and six chairs for £1.2s.11d each, how much change did he get from £20?" Ugh!) We used a completely different set of coins, not to mention pound notes instead of coins.
  10. Inkwells and dip pens - for most of my schooldays, school desks had inkwells that were always kept filled as we were only allowed to write in "real" ink. I am even old enough to remember a year or two where we had to use old-fashioned dip pens, provided by the school. Fade ... smudge ... splatter ... blot ...
  11. Log tables - the alternative to the yet-to-be-invented pocket calculator. After a certain age maths meant an ever present book of "log tables" - logarithms, sines, cosines and more - to make impossibly long-winded arithmetical calculations possible without electronic assistance.
  12. Sweet (candy) cigarettes - so we could pretend to smoke like the grown ups. How un-PC is that!
  13. School milk - little bottles of milk we had to drink at morning break every day. Room temperature, and sometimes no longer quite at their best. Drinking your milk was not optional. Consigned to history by Thatcher the Milk Snatcher.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Help! I Married an Alien!

I tried this with various blog and non-blog family names. Here is the winner of my private competition:

Your Slogan Should Be

Tevye: What You'd Eat if You Lived on Mars

HT: Theresa

Seder Snippets

We had a busy weekend with two seder meals. Why two seders? Due to the difficulty of knowing exactly when the new moon would occur in Israel, Jews in the diaspora (outside Israel) traditionally added an extra day to Passover and celebrated two seders to ensure they had the right day covered. Nowadays the correct date for the beginning of Passover can be calculated more accurately, but the double seder tradition stuck.

Saturday's Seder
Small scale, with just the five of us. We downloaded this Family Haggadah (seder order of service) a couple of years ago and it works well for our mix of ages. It has all the essential elements of a traditional seder, clear text, abbreviated versions of favourite songs transliterated into the western alphabet, and is short enough for the girls to stay focused (mostly!).

Cherub was intrigued by the whole thing. Particularly by her very small "wine" glass, which she stuffed with a mixture of parsley (our "karpas" vegetable), charoset (apple, nuts, wine and sugar mixture to represent the mortar used by the Israelites in Egypt), matzoh and hard boiled egg. Nice.

Nobody spilled any wine. Unheard of.

Mercifully no unpleasant surprises during the preparation, unlike some people. Commiserations to Faith over the dead chipmunk.

Sunday's Seder

A larger scale at my SIL's, with fifteen people altogether (three families, plus an elderly gentleman from their synagogue, and a young Spanish Jew living in the UK to learn more about Judaism). Our girls were the only children ... the other "kids" are now all young adults. This was a full scale seder, following the Orthodox Haggadah and using a mix of Hebrew and English. Everyone there apart from myself and the girls are actually Reform Jews, but the Reform Synagogue organisation here doesn't have its own Haggadah so they stick to the traditional one. A traditional seder is long. We started at seven and finished at eleven, but only because the later section was fast-tracked as people needed to leave. Otherwise it would have been nearer midnight. It is also hard to follow, as the translation is grim. Old-fashioned language at its worst - pompous, wordy and obscure.

Cherub spent the entire time before the seder meal (an hour or more) sitting at the table happily arranging Playmobil people and furniture. After the meal she played a bit with Angel and Star, and with a box of sticklebricks. She is clearly a party animal. No way was she going to let herself fall asleep while there was a party going on. At one point she sat on Angel's lap and nodded off ... but managed to force herself back awake, hopped down and tried to walk. She was so close to asleep on her feet she looked like a little robot.

Lengthy negotiations over the afikomen (a piece of matzoh hidden by the children, which later becomes necessary for the continuation of the seder ... the children then hold it to ransom). My BIL is a lawyer. It shows. It took a while to establish that (a) yes, he was a person prepared to use cash to buy himself out of a difficulty, and (b) no, the girls would not consider Euros a better deal than sterling. All were eventually satisfied with the end result of the negotiations.

Two entirely random overheard comments:
"Pescatarianism sounds worse than cannibalism to me." (Huh?)
"I was at a Sephardi seder last night and at this point everyone hits each other over the head with a spring onion (scallion)."

Cousin L spilled her wine.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Preparing for Passover

Passover starts tonight, which means a long "to do" list in this Catholic-Jewish household ...

  • Remove bread and bread products
  • Clean toaster and dump in garage
  • Fry fish (cold fried fish is a common British Jewish seder food)
  • Boil eggs (ditto hard-boiled eggs in salt water)
  • Make charoseth (gooey apple-cinnamon-wine-walnut mix to represent the mortar used by the Israelites as slaves in Egypt)
  • Make coconut pyramids and cinnamon balls
  • Prepare seder plate with lamb bone (we don't have one!), horseradish (nowhere locally had any fresh horseradish root, so we will have to make do with a jar of creamed horseradish), parsley, bowl of salt water, charoseth
  • Find Haggadahs (order of service for seder meal)
  • Set out jug of water, bowl and towel for hand washing
  • Set table
  • Find afikomen presents for girls (too complicated to explain here)
Now what did I forget?

Thursday, April 17, 2008


I am mortified.

As I watched Little Cherub play yesterday, I realised that whenever she bent down to pick up a toy, or got up from the floor, she groaned like a stiff old middle aged lady with aching joints.

I wonder where she could possibly have got that from?

I knew mid-life motherhood would have its hazards. I was geared up to being mistaken for her grandmother (hasn't happened yet!). But a creaking, groaning toddler?


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

April's Shower of Photos: Day 15 and 16

Our Lady Around the World

I had an idea ... and it grew!

It started with the idea of making a May Basket for Little Cherub. I wanted to print out some pictures of Mary to laminate and put in the basket and started googling for images. As I did so I found a few from different parts of the world and decided to make a set of little cards with a "round the world" theme. Then I thought, why not make one for each day of May? And why not turn it into a blog project?

So, for Mary's month of May, I will be posting a series of "Our Lady Around the World" posts, taking one image and title of Our Lady daily, each from a different country. I have spent Little Cherub's nap time over the last couple of days researching, and I am finding it fascinating. I am learning tons! I will also be posting a series of images of Mary at First Heralds over the next week or so. These will give you a sneak preview of what to expect.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Play Time

The town council has just invested a substantial amount in refitting several local playgrounds, so Little Cherub and I have been having fun testing them out. We are impressed! She is particularly impressed with the new slides. If anybody mentions the word "slide" in her hearing, a little voice pipes up with "wheeee!!!!!"

You would think that as I am in photographic mode I would have thought to take pictures, but no. Fortunately, K-next-door did.

April's Shower of Photos: Day 14

I liked the shape of this ash tree, still looking rather wintry against the grey .

Sunday, April 13, 2008

April's Shower of Photos: Day 13

Another head shot taken yesterday.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

April's Shower of Photos: Day 12

On Saturday mornings we often take Little Cherub to the canal to feed the ducks. I managed to get a good close up of this mallard.

On, Doo, Pee, Pour

Little Cherub has discovered counting. She can now "count" up to ten, though she skips seven because it is a tricky word - if you can't say it, just miss it out, is her theory. We have a long way to go before she gets the idea of one to one correspondence, though.

"Cherub, how many feet do you have?"
[Points randomly in the direction of her feet]
"On ... doo ... pee ... [triumphantly] POUR!!!!"

It may lack mathematical accuracy, but it's very cute.

Friday, April 11, 2008

April's Shower of Photos: Day 10 and 11

I didn't manage to get out with the camera yesterday or today, so here are a couple of pictures taken when we were on holiday in Dorset - a group of teasels silhouetted against the sky and the Fleet, and a close up of a single teasel. (Old camera again, so not so much clarity.)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Thursday Thirteen: Knitting

One of my new year's resolutions was to take up knitting again, and it is one I have kept with enthusiasm. Here are thirteen good reasons for knitting.

Knitting is:

  1. Soothing and relaxing - that gentle click, click of the needles and rhythmic movement
  2. Simple - you only need to learn two basic stitches, knit and purl
  3. Easy to pick up if you have a few spare minutes - no setting up and organising required
  4. Economical - it is possible to buy yarn very cheaply, the internet has a huge number of free patterns, and you save money by knitting things you would otherwise buy
  5. Portable - you can tuck your knitting in a bag and take it anywhere
  6. Satisfying - you get to wear, use, or watch your family and friends wear your finished articles
  7. Environmentally friendly - wooden or bamboo needles, natural fibres like wool, cotton, silk and bamboo ... an ecologically sound hobby. You can even recycle old clothes by unravelling them and reknitting the same yarn.
  8. Sociable - knit with friends, chat to other knitters.
  9. The perfect hobby for bookworms - with a little practice you can learn to read and knit simultaneously.
  10. Toddler friendly - how many other crafts can you do with a toddler around?
  11. Flexible - there are so many different things it is possible to knit, and an endless variety of patterns and yarns.
  12. Addictive - once you start, you can't stop!
  13. Fun!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

April's Shower of Photos: Day 9

I tried to take a close-up of a couple of daisies and failed miserably, so here to fill the gap is a photo taken a while ago at a homeschool group field trip to Ashridge. The education team there provide various nature based activities for groups. On this trip the children first had to make "colour palettes" by sticking small samples of different coloured leaves, grass, flowers, bark and so on onto cards with a strip of double-side tape. Then they had to collect materials to make a large-scale picture before viewing (and photographing) the end result from the top of this monument. The girls' group made this flower.

It was taken with my old 3 megapixel camera so the details aren't clear, but the yellow petals were heaps of leaves, the stem was quite large branches, and the flower and leaves were outlined with twigs.

Enter by the Small Rivers

Because you have asked me, my brother John, most dear to me in Christ, how to set about acquiring the treasure of knowledge, this is the advice I pass on to you: That you should choose to enter by the small rivers, and not go right away into the sea, because you should move from easy things to difficult things. (from Letter of St.Thomas Aquinas on how to study)
HT: Northampton Seminarian

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

April's Shower of Photos: Day 8

These horse chestnut buds are just about to burst into leaf. The camera's "simple" (idiot-proof!) setting has an option for backlit shots, which works beautifully to get a clear picture of the subject. It may be a little light - unless I just have my monitor set too bright.

Taking this series of photos has reminded me just how pleased I am with this camera. I checked, and it is a Panasonic DMC LS60. For a cheap, entry-level digital camera, being operated by an unskilled photographer, I think it does an excellent job. This is the review that convinced me to buy it (I was originally looking at a Kodak which got less than stellar comments).

The Girl Who Lived

Yesterday I took a gaggle of girls - my three and J-next-door - on a shopping expedition to a nearby town. Walking back to the train station afterwards I lagged behind the three older girls, pushing Little Cherub and a heap of bags. Watching them trotting along, animated and chatty, I thought about the miracle that is J, The Girl Who Lived.

Like The Boy Who Lived (apologies for the allusion if you are not a fan of Harry), J bears an scar. On her chest, put there by surgeons. Like Harry, protected by his mother's love, The Girl Who Lived did so because of the courage and love of her parents.

J was diagnosed in utero with a catastrophic heart malformation, which the doctors predicted would make life outside the womb impossible. If she survived long enough to be born, her first breaths would lead only to suffocation as the blood flooding through her severely enlarged arteries compressed her lungs. Terminate the pregnancy, said the doctors. It would be the best thing. The kindest thing. She can't survive.

I can hardly begin to imagine the courage it takes to struggle through the long, heavy months of pregnancy carrying a baby you know will die at birth. But, thank God, J's parents had the faith and courage to carry that burden. When the time came for the birth to be induced, they simply asked that it should not be on the same day as her brother's birthday - to celebrate the birth of one child and mourn the death of another on the same day would be too painful. And so two days later than originally planned, The Girl Who Would Die was born. And lived.

The doctors were right. J had exactly the heart defects they predicted. But against all the odds her little body fought back. The baby who should have been blue, silent and gasping for breath, was pink, crying and breathing. The doctors were able to wait until she was five months old before carrying out corrective surgery.

And now? J is a happy, active and sporty teenager; she performs lead roles with the local children's theatre group; she has a busy social life and many friends. She cooks. She shops (clothes!!!). Now and then she yells at her Mum. She would lose her head if it wasn't screwed on. She is Angel's very best friend. She lives!

Life? Life is precious. Even the tiniest, most hopeless of lives is precious. Love? Love means having the courage to nurture even the smallest flicker of life, to risk the pain of loss. And sometimes love of that magnitude can be rewarded with a miracle.

I know that.

I know The Girl Who Lived.

Prayers Needed

... for Maria of Pixilated School Notes, who is undergoing tests following the discovery of a nodule on one of her lungs. Please pray that all will be well.

Monday, April 07, 2008

April's Shower of Photos: Day 7

These brown lumps are some sort of fungus growing on the hedge surrounding our back garden. I rather like the way this photo captured the mossy green tinge of the branches. I tried taking it using both the "ordinary" and "flower" settings (you can tell I'm a technical whizz with a camera. Not.) The general setting came out clearer.

The Experiment Continues

The properties-of-elements experiment with spectacle frames continues. The results now stand at:

Non-titanium frames - two successes for Little Cherub
Titanium frames - one failure for Little Cherub

Fortunately Star was due for a new pair anyway. Her old ones are well and truly snapped.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

I Love This Stuff!


Why, you ask?

Put it this way ... have you ever had a pair of glasses with cheap metal frames fall into the clutches of a toddler who thinks it is fun to see how much she can bend them? And have you ever had the same happen to a pair with titanium frames?

I'm pleased to report that despite having to force one arm back from a 210 degree angle, jammed over the front of the lens, the titanium frames are as good as new. That would be the titanium frames I bought (on sale! yay!) after she destroyed the last pair by doing the exact same thing.

And while I am on the subject of elements, how cool is this ... and this. Out of my price range, unfortunately.

April's Shower of Photos: Day 6

Another daffodils photo. Yesterday's rain turned to snow, though it is thawing like Narnia after Aslan's arrival.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

A Little Magic

Tevye and I had a kind of random conversation last night about what we could choose if we could pick a small thing that could be done magically - instantly and without any effort on our part. No great life or world-changing wishes, just a little touch of magic. These were our choices.

Me: To be whisked from the sofa to my bed. When I'm tired I want to go to bed now. I don't want to have to go through the whole nightly routine of undressing, throwing clothes in the laundry, putting on pyjamas, washing, tooth cleaning, using inhalers, and general faffing around before I can get into bed. A little wave of a magic wand and ... pouff! sofa to bed! Bliss!

Tevye: Instant unpacking and sorting out when we return from a holiday. Unloading of car, unpacking of bags, washing, ironing and putting away of clothes, checking and answering email backlog, dealing with post, catching up on anything else that has gone undone ... all sorted!

Now I think his is a poor idea as we only go away once or twice a year, whereas I would benefit from mine every night. He thinks getting from sofa to bed is such a small and insignificant process it is a waste of a good magical wish.

What would you choose?

April's Shower of Photos: Day 5

I'm getting inspired by Jennifer and other April Shower participants to think more about what I want to achieve with a photo. Today I decided I wanted to try and capture the rain that had stopped a few minutes earlier. Some of my efforts might charitably have been described as "interesting"; a few were just plain pathetic. I liked this one, with the raindrop on the flower in the centre and the cloudy sky behind. Thank goodness for ImageWell, which allows me to cut out the messy bits round the edge (I could do it in iPhoto, but find ImageWell easier). Is that cheating?

Friday, April 04, 2008

April's Shower of Photos: Days 3 and 4

Some of the rare flowers in our garden ... rare not in the sense of unusual, but because it takes true tenacity to survive my black thumbs and Tevye's conviction that anything that grows must be a weed.

My camera has a "flower" setting. At least, there is a picture of a flower on the dial and it appears to take close ups of flowers when the arrow points at that picture!

Really VERY Old

Overheard in the back of the car, Star to friend:

"My Mum was really old when she had Little Cherub. Now she is very old!"

Thursday, April 03, 2008

April's Shower of Photos: Days 1 and 2

Jennifer of S/V Mari-Hal-o-Jen put out a challenge for this month:

If you would like to join me in a month of photos, please drop a comment into the comment box and I'll collect all our info into my seriously outdated sidebar. Set your own goals for the month or focus on a theme that interests you (Spring Flowers, macro photos, portraits, or perhaps the color green?) or simply have uploading one photo a day as your goal! Goodness knows that's all I'll get done some April days!

I hope to make April's Shower of Photos a little Loveliness to look forward to each day, won't you join me?
Photography is not my strong point but I'm going to give it a go, even though it is pushing me right out of my comfort zone. I think I will need a focus to avoid sinking into a paralysed, photo-less confusion, so I'm going to go with a "nature" theme. I only have an pocket-sized entry-level Panasonic digital camera. It takes better photos than the old Kodak I was using until it died last year, but a professional piece of kit it most definitely is not.

I got off to a good start as we took Star and Little Cherub to the zoo today. Plenty of photo opportunities there - though not as many as there would have been if I had remembered to buy spare batteries for the camera, which ran out of juice part way through the day. First, a close up of a lemur nibbling what looked like a piece of twig. The lemurs are in a walk-through enclosure, so it is possible to get up close and personal.

This rhino wasn't as near as he looks and we were firmly on the other side of the fence! He was pretty close, though. I would love to have got a shot of two magpies sitting on the back of an oblivious rhino, but they flew off.

The penguins have always been a zoo favourite of ours. Here are three Humboldt's penguins marching. Judging by his feathers the bird at the back must be a large chick. Behind them was a longer and better procession, but that was the point at which my camera died.

This is a poor quality photo as I had to go heavy on the zoom. My camera has a 3x optical zoom: after that it relies on digital zoom with a corresponding decrease in resolution. This 11 week old baby was such a cutie I had to include him, digital zoom or no.

Tomorrow I hit my first bump in the road. Buy camera batteries!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Eat like Granny

My organic fruit and veg box includes a weekly newsletter from the farm owner. Mostly his news is information about current crops and growing conditions. This week it was a more general piece about food and healthy eating, triggered by a newly imposed requirement to use computer generated nutrition analysis to establish whether school meals cooked by his company are "healthy".

First he quoted four guidelines from Michael Pollan's In Defence of Food, which sound eminently sensible to me:

  1. don’t eat anything your great grandmother would not recognise as food
  2. don’t buy anything with more than five ingredients
  3. only eat at a table; eat slowly and communally
  4. distrust any food claiming health benefits
He feels - rightly - that we have lost confidence in our ability to know what is "good" food, and spend too much time listening to scientific "experts" and not enough listening to granny. And he cites one of my personal bugbears:
Even today there is just too much that we do not know. Nothing illustrates this better than the thirty year vilification of butter only to find that the miserable, meal ruining transfats (margarine etc) that have displaced it are in all probability more damaging.
This was his conclusion:
Traditionally cooked whole foods have been elbowed aside in favour of highly processed functional foods designed, manufactured and marketed to solve the problems associated with a Western diet. They don’t seem to be working. Science will not solve a cultural problem; namely a collapse in the willingness, confidence and skills needed to cook and enjoy real food. There is no one healthy diet or silver bullet that can better the knowledge accumulated over generations of how to use predominantly locally sourced ingredients to sustain us through happy and healthy lives. Pollan’s advice is that unless you suffer from a specific dietary illness like diabetes, the best thing to do with a nutritionist’s advice is to ignore it.
You can read the whole newsletter here.

The book sounds good, and I was glad to find my library has a copy. Only one copy, and three reservations ahead of me, but I have added myself to the queue and can wait patiently!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

If in doubt ... do less!

My planning mania struck again before Easter. My train of thought landed on Little Cherub's future schooling, and I found myself starting a list of topics I wanted to cover with her in the early years. I began scribbling down all sorts of great ideas for setting up Montessori-style trays, subject baskets, main lesson books ... then I wondered if I really needed to reinvent the wheel. I took a look at the Preparatory Level of Mater Amabilis and the introductory notes I wrote jumped out and hit me. Time to listen to my own advice!

IF IN DOUBT - DO LESS. Trying to do too much with a young child is worse than doing too little. It is better to start from scratch with a six year old than to find yourself dealing with one who doesn't want to do schoolwork any more. Be sensitive to your child's needs and readiness. If he or she isn't ready, then holding off for a year or so is fine.
Then this from a Parents' Union School Preparatory Class Programme:
Children of five still need plenty of quiet growing-time and as much out-of-door life as possible. Daily lessons should be regular but informal and the time-table regarded only as a flexible guide to a well-assorted arrangement of free play occupations, activities and quiet story times.
From there I took another look at the notes I made on gentle learning for the early years (still a work in progress), and went right back to the drawing board.

I made a list of the things I want to prioritise - outdoor time, nature study, stories, picture books, art and craft. Then, inspired by Donna Simmons' suggestions for three to six year olds, I worked out a routine that would allow me to include them all on a more or less daily basis.
  • 8.00 Housework
  • 8.30 Prayers, Bible or saint story, songs, poems (a sort of Circle Time, if it is possible to have Circle Time with just two of us)
  • 9.00 Out and about - this could include any combination of Mass, trips to the park, outdoor play, walks, visits to the woods or lake, library trips, errands, visits to friends or Grandma, and other outside activities. Plenty of outdoor time should allow nature study to happen naturally.
  • 12.00 Lunch
  • 12.30 Story time
  • 1.00 Rest (quiet play or look at books)
  • 2.00 Craft activity - interpreted widely, to include crafts, handwork, painting, cookery and gardening
  • 3.00 Picture books
  • 3.30 Play time
  • 6.00 Dinner
This is meant as a loose structure for our day, not a rigid timetable - something I simply don't have the self-discipline for. Writing it out means I can see what it is realistic to fit into a leisurely day. I know my own weaknesses, and know that I find it easy to miss out outdoor activities and crafts. They take effort, and if I don't have a plan of sorts, they won't happen. I also want Cherub to have a sense of order in her day. Boiled down to its simplest, the essence of the plan is "mornings for out and about stuff, afternoons for reading, quiet play and hands-on activities".

The timings are dictated in part by the older girls' school day - they leave at eight and get home soon after four. Going out in the morning works better for us as it gives as a clear block of time without any time pressure. It also means I won't get "behind" on my day and end up not getting out at all. I don't imagine that we will spend three hours out of the house every day, but if I think of the morning as "outdoor time" it will makes planning easy. Any morning time we spend indoors will be "free" time.

I am not going to plan any formal learning, but if Little Cherub is anything like her sisters, she will probably learn the basics of letters and numbers without needing formal instruction. Poor Angel got it whether she needed it or not, with Star I was more laid back, and this time round I'm just going to relax and let it happen when it happens. I will have letter and number activities available to do for fun if she wants, but I will follow her lead.


I know I have a few readers who are Mac users, so I thought I'd pass on a recommendation for some image editing software I have been using: ImageWell. The basic software is free, with the option to pay for an upgraded version with extra features.

I haven't tried any other image editing software, so I can't make any comparisons, and all I use it for is prettying up pictures for my blog, but it does that very nicely. My header pictures here and at First Heralds, and the Tolkien quote in my sidebar were all done using ImageWell. I got a bit carried away with electronic doodling, and have already made a rather nifty header picture for May. The software will easily adjust the size of pictures and makes it possible to superimpose text. Other options include cropping, making pictures opaque and adding coloured borders. There may be more but that is as far as I have got with my experiments.

ImageWell has also solved a minor technical issue that bugged me. For some reason photos taken with my camera held vertical come out sideways on this blog, even though they appear the right way up in iPhoto. Dropping them into ImageWell and saving them there solves the problem.