Tuesday, December 23, 2008


"O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God."

So this is the last of the O Antiphons. Everybody, probably, has heard the Advent carol O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. And this antiphon is its origin. It pretty much sums up what the antiphons have been leading us to pray for days -- You, who have all these characteristics, and merit all these titles, come! Because we are eagerly awaiting that awe-inspiring mystery God-with-us!

I made it! The presents are wrapped; we are at Arwen's house, where she is in charge of the cooking (though I did bring tamales for Christmas day.) I have today and tomorrow to quiet my heart and prepare for Christ's coming, and also to cuddle grandchildren. What a blessing that those two things are not mutually exclusive!

Have a very merry and blessed Christmas!!

Monday, December 22, 2008

King and Keystone

" O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart: O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust."

The O antiphons are coming to an end! Every year when they start, and it's clear that Christmas is soon, seven of them still sounds like a large number, that will take a while to get through. But this is number six. And I am "not ready". This means that the wrapping is not all done, and a few more things should be bought, to fill in holes in my list that I didn't realize I had.

But that's my Martha side coming out. The antiphon doesn't refer to "the day everything has to be done by." George came home last night, a day earlier than I expected him! (Apparently the whole rest of the family was in on it.) And even though he was early, and everything wasn't ready (like making Tommy clear his stuff off George's bed) I was overjoyed to see him. How much more should I welcome "the only joy of every human heart"!

This year all the shopping is done -- I'm out of money! But the wrapping is not even begun. We are all hanging out at Arwen and Bryan's, and they have set up a designated "wrapping room" in the basement. I'm going to be down here all day. But it's going to be a joy, because all of my family is here. And that doesn't begin to measure up to the joy of the coming king!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Radiant Dawning

" O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death."

The references to "darkness and the shadow of death" in yesterday and today's antiphons are quotes, from the prayer of Zechariah after the birth of John the Baptist. (It's found in Luke 1:68-79.) In the translation I know best, the end of it goes:
In the tender compassion of our God
The dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
And to guide our feet into the way of peace.

In the last few days I've learned about a number of people who are literally living "in the shadow of death" -- the son of a friend who has melanoma on his liver (discovered through an X-ray for pneumonia!), an elderly friend who's been on oxygen for years but now can't keep his blood levels up, a woman whose elderly father (who lived with her) just died who has such an intense job that she has no time to grieve. All of these people know and love God, but that doesn't stop them from bearing the weight of the darkness. But God has tender compassion for all of them, and us, and the "dawn from on high" will break. No wonder we await His coming!

I really needed the reminder of last year's wisdom! My trials are smaller -- a cat who no longer is litter trained (he likes my bed), repeated changes of plans, fatigue. But all of this is small stuff, if I can remember the glorious light and power of God. Come, O Radiant Dawn!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Key of David - Shadow of death

"O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven: come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom."

I had never noticed before I started this posting on the O Antiphons just how much they refer to freedom. I think we all tend to forget, because our lives are so comfortable (especially compared to most people through most of history), how bound we are. I'm bound by customs that have become law in my head, and by my own pre-judgements of things and situations, and by choices I've made in the past, and many other things I'm rarely aware of. Just because there are no chains on my ankles doesn't mean I don't need the Lord to come and set me free!

This year I am aware of several friends and relatives who stand in the shadow of death, both physical and spiritual. Some are despondent and gloomy, but some evidence joy, because they have been set free from the darkness. Event though they still live in the shadow, they can see the light of freedom. Would God we all possessed this key!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Flower of Jesse -- in the snow

"O Flower of Jesse's stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid."

Wednesday is never my favorite day of the week. I do too many of my least-favorite chores on Wednesday. But if I get them all done, I get to go to the Barnes and Noble cafe, sip a decaf mocha, and read for a while. Fortunately, Christ's coming doesn't depend on my working hard. I just have to be ready to stand silent in his presence.

This year this antiphon falls on a Friday. And there is so much snow that Christmas vacation began a day early! I have been doing a lot of running, but today I am housebound. And I need to find the silence and awe just as much here.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Lord of Might (and Freedom)

"O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free."

Obviously this is out of date; Maggie's been home for a year! But I certainly could use some heavenly freedom. This has been an Advent (and for that matter a year) of spiritual stretching for me. I can (sometimes) handle problems and challenges that would have caused me to melt down even a year ago. I'm glad to be stronger, but it makes me long even more for the freedom to see all of it from God's perspective.

The title I gave this post is a phrase from O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Because I've known that longest, I tend to remember the antiphons in its phraseology. But it's really more about freedom. I could sure use some strength and freedom these next two days. I have all my regular chores, plus wrapping still to do and a few final decorating touches. And Maggie is even now in an airplane, winging home from her semester in Austria!

I am very excited to see her, but since her best/cheapest flight package was from Chicago -- a six hour drive -- Roger has already left to pick her up, and they won't be home until tomorrow. They'll be stopping to spend the night at Arwen's house, which is almost 2 hours closer to Chicago, and then swinging over in the morning so Maggie can see Rosie and Daniel. So tomorrow afternoon! And George flies in on Saturday. Christmas is coming!!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wisdom, Again

I ran this series of posts on the O Antiphons last year, and I'm going to publish them again with additional reflections.

"O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, You govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation."

Today is something our family has been waiting for all year -- the first of the "O Antiphons". For our family evening prayers (and also some people's personal morning prayer) we use the Liturgy of the Hours, the official daily prayer of the Catholic church. (Bet you thought that was the Rosary! Nope, that's considered a "private devotion", --which is of course how we use the LotH ;-D ) Every day at evening prayer we recite the Magnificat, Mary's song of praise in response to the greeting of Elizabeth. Each day of the liturgical year has its own antiphon, a sentence or so which is traditionally recited between sections of the prayer. We just read them at the start of it.

Some of the antiphons are simply quotes, from Scripture or from the Magnificat itself. But starting on December 17 and running through the 23rd (because evening prayer of Christmas Eve is the start of Christmas), the antiphons are translations of very old (fifth century AD?) Latin ones. The Wikipedia article I linked to above has an excellent analysis. But you've certainly heard them; the verses of O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and many other Advent hymns repeat them.

For our family, the O Antiphons are many things. For the kids (especially when they were younger), they just mean Christmas will be here soon. But for someone like me, who is always struggling to balance the "Mary" and "Martha" parts of Advent, they give a "theme of the day", something to meditate on while running at full tilt. So I'm going to post them here each morning, and with an effort maybe I"ll be able to slow down and prepare my heart.

"O Wisdom . . . " Wow am I grateful for God's wisdom this year! I have been relying heavily on it to get me through this holiday season, and I promise you I would be jibbering without it. My carefully-thought-out schedule has been shot to pieces so many times, but everything is still getting done. I'm glad it's not just my own wisdom available!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


I have no idea why the caramel popcorn post looks like that. But it should still taste good!

Tasty Tuesday -- Caramel Popcorn

Right along with everyone else, we are feeling a budget crunch this year. We won't overspend on Christmas, because we set aside money each month all year, and when it's gone, it's gone. I bargain-shop like crazy, and we will have a very nice celebration. But with higher prices and a somewhat reduced amount of money, I was briefly stuck about what to give people like the grandparents -- people who already have more than enough "stuff", but who rate a present. (Actually, they will also be getting copies of our latest family picture, which hasn't been taken yet. George, who is becoming an awesome photographer, will be taking it when he's home on leave next week.)

I was scuttling through T*rget on my way to get a roll of extra-wide wrapping paper (for which I comparison-shopped six stores) when I saw a big display of what I call "gifts for people you think you should give something to but don't know what to get." Among them were some undersized and overpriced jars of stale-looking caramel popcorn. My first response was "Ugh!", but my second responses was "I can do much better than that!" Because I have this recipe, which I got from my friend Betty many years ago, and which is always wonderful!

Caramel Popcorn

Preheat oven to 250°. Place in a large roasting pan 20-24 cups popped popcorn. (From my popper this is about 3/4 c. unpopped.) Combine and boil for five minutes: 2 c. brown sugar, 2 sticks (1 c.) margarine, 1/2 c.corn syrup, and 1/2 t. salt. (I do this in my microwave; it takes about 3 minutes to melt the margarine and heat it up. I stir it after three minutes, and then set the microwave for 6 minutes more, watching carefully. If you do use the microwave, make sure you use a large enough bowl -- my 8-cup Pyrex is barely big enough; 10 cups would be much better.)

Remove from heat (or microwave) and add: 1t. vanilla, 1/2 t. soda, pinch cream of tartar. (It will bubble like crazy when you put in the vanilla -- it's the alcohol boiling away.)

Pour immediately over the popcorn, stir, and place pan in oven (uncovered.) Bake 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Cool (I do this on a couple of rimmed baking sheets) and store in air-tight containers. (Plastic bags are fine.) Makes about 5 quarts.

I tried a couple of variations this year, both of which worked well. To some batches (I made 6 total!) I added about 3 cups of raw nuts. I used a mixture of almonds and pecans, but anything you like would work, even peanuts. Just make sure the nuts are raw; already toasted nuts will taste burned by the time the popcorn is done.

The other thing I tried was doing the baking in my turkey roaster. It has a non-stick pan insert, which saved a lot of washing time between batches. It worked very well, but I found I had to stir the popcorn very thoroughly or it got over-brown on the bottom. I also found that turning the insert 180 degrees after half the time helped -- apparently my roaster is slightly hotter at one end. This was all completely worth it for me, though, because I set the roaster on the counter and didn't have to bend over to stir. (I'm old -- sigh!)

This recipe is actually very easy, because after the popcorn is baking you can do other things, just coming back to stir every quarter hour. Also, if it works better for you, the popcorn can be popped and set aside in advance. It doesn't matter if it's a little stale -- the time in the oven takes care of that.

So this is my solution to the don't-know-what-to-buy problem. (Of course I had to make some for us, too!) Let me know if you try it, and have a very merry and tasty Christmas!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Home for Christmas!

Actually, of course, we won't be "home" for Christmas, since we're celebrating in Arwen and Rosie's town so that Arwen doesn't have to travel anytime near her due date (she learned her lesson the last time!) But Katie arrives on a plane tonight. Maggie will be home on Sunday; she's also done with her semester, but is in Texas being a bridesmaid for a dear friend. And a week from tomorrow George flies home. We may have transplanted the celebration a hundred miles, but we'll all be "Home" for Christmas!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Sewing and Singing -- Updated!

I have been doing a lot of sewing recently, most of it secret (because after all Christmas is coming!) and this evening I finished one major part of it. I also finished a Christmas project that wasn't a secret -- Matthew's Christmas stocking.

Back when Arwen was a baby a friend and I went to a crafts extravaganza sponsored by the local Home Extension Agency. It was not a "craft show", where crafters sell their wares, but a "you can do this!" showing, with about 50 different projects
featured, and a handbook with how-to's and patterns included in the price of admission. I discovered one for a sewn fabric stocking with a counted-cross-stitch band for the name. Since Roger and Arwen had no stockings, and mine was totally dilapidated, I made three.

That was 26 years ago, and since then I've made five more for children (oops, six -- we lost one somewhere), two for sons-in-law, four for assorted relatives and friends, two for Daniel and Camilla, and now one for Matthew. And I already have the one for Arwen's new baby cut out; I just need a name before I can put it together. These stockings are not all "matchy-matchy" -- the adults have solid red or green or white, -- these are Arwen and Bryan's; Arwen sent the picture for the update--
with assorted prints for trim. The grandkids have print ones with solid trim. They are fun to do, but I'm sure glad to be done for now!

The singing part refers to our church choir. Instead of doing the same mass every week, we do 5PM, 8AM, 9:30 and 11:30 in rotation, and then have a week off. This week was 8AM; nobody's favorite, but the little old ladies love us! (That is, the ones who aren't singing with us.) Anyway, it was almost worth getting up at 6:30 because we got to sing this:

On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry
Announces that the Lord is nigh;
Awake and hearken, for he brings
Glad tidings of the King of kings.

Then cleansed be every heart from sin;
Make straight the way of God within,
Let every heart
prepare a home
Where such a mighty Guest may come.

For you are our salvation, Lord,
Our refuge and our great reward;
Without your grace we waste away
Like flowers that wither and decay.

To heal the sick stretch out your hand,
And bid the fallen sinner stand;
Shine forth and let your light restore
Earth's own true loveliness once more.

All praise the Son
Whose advent sets His people free;
Whom with the Father we adore
And Spirit blest for evermore.

(If you go here you can hear the MIDI and see the original words)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

This 'n' That

This is by way of being a catch-all post, keeping me in the habit of semi-regular posting. First, another Advent song:

1. O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

Dear Savior haste;
Come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show Thy face,
And bid us hail the dawn of grace.
O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

2. O Christ, whom nations sigh for,
Whom priest and prophet long foretold,
Come break the captive fetters;
Redeem the long-lost fold.

3. You come in peace and meekness,
And lowly will Thy cradle be;
All clothed in human weakness
We shall Thy Godhead see.

(MIDI of tune here

Then, a tasty tip I should have added to this: The recipe calls for one tablespoon of tomato paste. You can buy tomato paste in toothpaste-like tubes, but it's pricey and some of it usually goes bad. I buy cheap store-brand cans, shove the leftovers in the fridge, and it usually still goes bad but I'm not out as much. But I ought to put the leftover part in 1T blobs on a sheet, freeze, and then bag them. Keeps longer, and is pre-measured for when you need just one tablespoon.

Third, a reading update: I'm still working through the same stuff, although I took back Who's Afraid of Virginia Ham without reading more than half a chapter because the main character had what I considered a blatantly sinful lifestyle. Obviously one can't read mystery novels without encountering sinful behavior, but I have a bias that says it should belong to the "bad guys", not the hero. That's what I like about the Phoebe Atwood Taylor books -- they're from the thirties, when most people agreed with me!

And finally, a

to Jen, my most regular commenter, who just had a beautiful baby girl. Congratulations Jen and Matt!