Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Seventh Day of Christmas

It is a custom in the Daughters of Charity for the whole community around the world to be in retreat today.   So I will be praying for all my blogging and Facebook friends as well as for many others, and other intentions.

I post this Christmas card - probably my very favorite - on this day of silent retreat. It is another creation of Sister Barbara Ann:

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Sixth Day of Christmas

List Making Time

The blogger at one of the sites I visit wrote down her dreams for 2012.  I’m attempting to do the same here.
What are my dreams for 2012?

The altruistic ones:

·         World Peace,

·         Universal Health Care,

·         Equal Distribution of Food and Money,

·         a Cure for Cancer

( not that I’m asking for much…)

 The selfish ones:

·         Full federal and state funding for the Homes for America project in both wings of our house

·         twenty new vocations to the Daughters of Charity,

·         no more trees cut down on Emmitsburg properties ( the former PH or the Mount)

·         two weeks at Cape May

·         getting to go to the MacDowell Colony this summer

·         being cured of the radiation damage sustained from the cancer treatment

·         having central vision restored to my left eye - and seeing a Snowy Owl in the wild!

These are some of my dreams. It’s clear that they are not my expectations. Can they be my hopes?
What are the differences between dreams, expectations, and hopes?
I don’t have many expectations at all, but I do have many hopes.

Here is another favorite Christmas card.  It was created by a friend of mine, Sister Barbara Ann Underhill of the All Saints Sisters of the Poor in Catonsville, Maryland:

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Fifth Day of Christmas

Here's another favorite cookie recipe.  It comes from my mother via her lifelong friend Molly Stauffer Johnson  ( both of them departed now).  It's probably 100 years old or older, from the Pennsylvania Dutch country:

Date Walnut Cookies

1 cup brown sugar

2/3 cup butter

2 eggs

½ tsp baking powder

1 tbsp vinegar

2 cups sifted flour

½ tsp salt

½ tsp baking soda

1 lb. Pitted dates

1 cup black walnuts chopped

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs. Mix well.

Add soda and vinegar.

Sift flour, baking powder, salt. Add to the wet mixture.

Add dates and nuts.

Drop on greased cookie sheet.

Bake 325 10-12 min.

Really good.  Welcome at any season, but especially during the winter.

This morning I sent my application to the MacDowell Colony , to see if I can spend two weeks there this summer, writing poetry.   Wish me luck!

Another favorite Christmas card:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Fourth Day of Christmas

Cold and blustery, but sunny - major change from yesterday.  The lead photo on this page was taken LAST January... no snow this year since Halloween.

I had a wonderful leisurely day - anotherenjoyable visit and lunch with a former student, then more cookie baking!  This time, the second half of the Butter Cookie batch.


Ingredients:     1 lb. butter
                        2 cups sugar
                        4 cups flour
                        2 eggs
                        1/2 teaspoon salt
                         1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream butter and sugar; add eggs, salt, and vanilla.  Add flour gradually. Refrigerate, covered,overnight. ( I form this batter into sticky rolls and roll in waxed paper, and freeze to slice and bake later)
For rolled/cookie cutter cookies, roll thinly on floured surface.

Bake at 400 degrees  on ungreased cookie sheets for 5-9 minutes or until brown around the edges.

Really good!

After the cookies, I mixed and baked  my own version of Chex Mix - more Cheerios than anything else.  All cleaned up now, and ready for some reading.

Here is another favorite Christmas card - with one of my favorite birds.  I have several who are regular visitors to the suction cup feeder on the window of my bedroom:

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Third Day of Christmas

And a rainy one it is.

I've been working on syllabi for the three courses I'm teaching in the second semester:
Freshman Seminar, Mod Civ ( poetry and history of 20th century Europe), and The Church in the Modern World/ Women of Faith.   More on those another time.

I went out for lunch with four of my former students - women I taught back in 1975-76, when I was 28 and they were 18.  We reconnected about two years ago via Facebook: what a great invention!  The ten year difference in our ages means nothing now; they are mostly married, with grown children. I love seeing them.  They made my rainy day bright.

Speaking of bright, here is another favorite Christmas card. It's not religious, but I love the artwork and the spirit of goodness: 

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Second Day of Christmas

Here's another favorite card - sent at least twenty years ago by Ralph and Rita Harper - my beloved Hopkins professor and his wife, an artist who was born and raised in Greece.  I love the depiction of Joseph and Mary as middle-eastern people.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The First Day of Christmas

We really should begin celebrating Christmas today - the Feast of the Birth of Christ - and keep on celebrating at least for the twelve days - until Epiphany.  We could continue celebrating until the Feast of the Holy Family, or even until Candlemas Day, February 2nd.   When I see families taking down their Christmas trees on December 26, it makes me sad.  Keep them up!

Here is one of my favorite Christmas cards:

Another favorite Christmas cookie recipe:

English Shortbread

4 cups all purpose flour
2 cups butter, softened
1 1/4 cups confectioners sugar
1 tsp double acting baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Make about 2 hours before serving or up to 1 week ahead.

Into large bowl, measure all ingredients with hands.
Knead all ingredients until well blended. Dough will be soft. Pat dough evenly into 2    9inch round cake pans - with fork, prick dough in many places.

Bake shortbreads about 45 minutes at 325, or until golden brown.

While still warm, cut into wedges. Cool inpan before removing - store tightly in covered container.

Because of butter content, if not eaten within week, freeze.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ten Favorite Christmas Carols

“Harry, I think it’s Christmas Eve”

One of my favorite scenes from the seventh Harry Potter book, and one of the most poignant:

Harry and Hermione have gone to visit Godrick’s Hollow, the village where Harry was born and where his parents died. It’s midnight, and it’s snowing, and the music of carols drifts from the little church.

The two young wizards don’t have any background or education in Christianity, though the Wizard School celebrates the holiday with Christmas trees  and feasting and vacation ( much like the non-wizarding world of real time). Still, they know the sacredness of the time. Hermione reads the inscription from the Potters’ gravestones:   the last enemy that shall be destroyed is Death. She conjures up a wreath of Christmas roses and places them on the tomb, as Harry weeps.  It’s such an English Christmas scene.  This makes the very next scene so much more alien and horrific, when evil shows its terrible face.

Anyway… I started to write about my ten favorite Christmas carols:

1.       In the bleak midwinter

2.       Ding dong merrily on high

3.       Once in Royal David’s City

4.       Bright Day Star

5.       Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning

6.       I heard the Bells on Christmas Day

7.       People, Look East

8.       In Dulci Jubilo

9.       The Holly and the Ivy

10.   Deck the Halls

 I love the way these carols are sung. I love the harmonies. I love the lyrics.  Maybe these favorites derive from my many years of listening to the festival of nine lessons and carols from King’s College, Cambridge; they certainly categorize me as an Anglophile!

Wanted to add some recipes here, too:

Date Cookies    ( 100 year old recipe from my mother's friend Molly Stauffer)

1 cup brown sugar

2/3 cup butter

2 eggs

½ tsp baking powder

1 tbsp vinegar

2 cups sifted flour

½ tsp salt

½ tsp baking soda

1 lb. Pitted dates ( I cut them up with scissors)

1 cup black walnuts chopped ( regular walnuts work just as well)
Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs. Mix well.

Add soda and vinegar.

Sift flour, baking powder, salt. Add to the wet mixture.

Add dates and nuts.

Drop on greased cookie sheet.

Bake 325 10-12 min. 

Fifty years of journals

Today I have had a shameful amount of free time – well, time I should have spent working on the syllabi for next semester, but didn’t -  and decided to look through my previous journals to see what I wrote about Christmas.
It struck me when I went to Journal #1, which began March 20, 1961, when I was in the seventh grade.

I have been writing a journal for fifty years!  The one I’m in now is number 56; the journals are not regular in their entries. I had one or two books for the four years I was in college, but five books for the two years I was a postulant/novice. Again, I had two books for the six years that I was the Sister-Servant ( local superior) of our house at Alto Road… and then three books for the two years I was studying at the Washington Theological Union.  Also, the books differ in size, though most of them are black marble copybooks.  What accounts for the amount of writing?  Time, primarily.  Also, stress.  I wrote the least when I probably should have written most --- when life was tough.  And even now, I don’t like to go back and read those particular volumes ; the writing brings it all back way too vividly.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas poems

I recently finished a "10/10"  -- ten poems in ten days, on the Writers Anonymous site on Press 1.  Three other poets were writing along with me.   Since it was Winter Solstice, and so close to Christmas, many of the poems reflect that theme.  I began to take some favorite lines from Christmas carols and spin some poems off them.
Here are several:

   Approaching the Dark

Approaching the dark,
I consider the ladybug
traversing my copybook,
ardent-hearted red,
looking for a place to spend the winter
who must view the edge of the desk
as the Grand Canyon,
but who can fly
to the radiator
to the icy marble windowsill
where the sky turns dianthus pink
looking for a place to spend the winter


Always we are following a light

Always we are following a light.
It draws the eye, the light in the window
of the house in the distance
aacross the dark meadow
at the end of a dark lane.
Snowflakes catch the headlights
on a road where the shoulder shrugs and
disappears into the blizzard’s buzzard boast.
The small flame on the candle in the clear glass vigil
flickering at the feet of our Lady of Chartres,
only light I see
from the other side of the room.

Late in time, behold him come

Late in time, behold him come.
Not the Christmas child
but my homesick student
early balding boy, shy , tall,
missing from class since Halloween,
arrives on exam day to see if it’s too late
to drop the class
and the other classes, too.
What has he been doing in these busy weeks
as rainy fall turned into
clotted winter,
so far away from family,
on the side of this brown mountain?
What will he tell that furious father
or the grandfather
whose name is on the School of Business?

Nuns Decorating Their Christmas Tree

Richer by far is the heart’s adoration…

It’s a fake tree, safer for the giant convent
Where so many old sisters lie helpless in bed.
We’re in another wing, still working,
Still mobile, lucid, continent,
Though our young women live far south
In houses in poor neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, we decorate the fake tree
Already festooned with lights by the
Maintenance men.
We bring out those shiny brites
from the fifties,
wondering which of our sisters,
now dead, purchased them
in some long ago Woolworths.

We bring out our family heirlooms,
ornaments from our trees at home
hung by us as little girls
long before we joined this
We bring out bells and angels
from our siblings,
Redbirds and partridges.
Everyone comes with her Christmas
from home
which we join with our convent Christmases.

Together, together,
with stories of our Christmases as young nuns,
cutting down the tree, anchoring it in place,
when the aromatic presence
caused our hearts  lilting love.

And still, through cloven skies they come

In the full moon’s glare, the sky’s lit up with clouds
fluffy and definite as clover,
they scud and trip, pretending  to be close
when no one’s angels pass between their cracks
where mice can pass through cracks as fine as fingernails
the cloven hooves of horses, cows and goats
the clouds resemble
where the angels enter the world
like young nuns coming from their cloister
into the sunlight.

Look now! For glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing

When I first learned to play the piano,
in the piano rooms at school,
not having a piano at home,
first learned to read music,
I bought a book of Christmas carols,
seeking out the ones I never heard
but liked the lyrics. Liked the titles:

The Holly and the Ivy
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night
The Coventry Carol
The Cherry Tree Carol
Once in Royal David's City...

I’d read the music , try to sing the melody,
but having no piano
and no memory of the tune,
no idea of the timing,
I’d give up and go back to

Silent Night.

Vainly we offer each ample oblation
All over America,
  in thousands of KMarts,
anonymous donors are paying off
the balance of layaway accounts.
Fifty dollars here,
Two hundred there,
so people with no credit but love
 can release
 their children’s Christmas toys
from captivity.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I woke up happy

Gaudete Sunday, in the Catholic tradition.  At Mass, the priest asked the question "When were you last happy?"

I woke up at 5:45, grumbling because I could sleep late and didn't.  But I went back to sleep and dreamed I was at my Alma Mater, Saint Joseph College, in the present time.  I was a professor there, and was living with the students on Third Marillac.  It was move-in day in September.  The campus was teeming with students and parents. It was a sunny, lovely day, and everyone seemed to be busy and happy.  I climbed up the stairs from the ground floor to the first floor, and someone's Dad said to me, "Why don't you use the elevator?"  He indicated an elevator just around the corner, in a new wing.  I then noticed that the whole dorm had been renovated.  It had always had the high ceilings and large windows, but now it was even brighter. There was carpeting in the halls, which seemed to be wider than I remembered.  The students ( it was still all girls) were busy moving into their room.  I boarded the elevator and climbed to the top floor, the third floor.  The scene there was the same, even better, because there was a cafe-like coffee place in the middle of the third floor, where students and parents were enjoying coffee and talking.  I looked out the window at the campus, and could see all the way over to Brute - the dining hall building.  Everywhere students and parents were walking.

I woke up happy.  Even after I remembered that my Alma Mater had closed in 1973, and that in 1979 the campus was purchased by the Federal government and now housed FEMA,  I still felt happy.

Happiness is a mystery, isn't it?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Almost a month

has passed since I wrote here.  Can't believe the swift passage of time.  I've been occupied with end of the semester grading.  Before that, I was occupied with a "30/30"  - writing thirty poems in thirty days on the listserv Inside the Writer's Studio.  Between the two activities, I almost forgot about this blog.

Need to finish the grading and get back to writing. 

I'm watching the winter birds from my bedroom window.  A pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers are regular visitors to the birdseed bell hanging there.

I had some good photos of them, but the photos were lost when I got this new laptop.  I don't own a computer; the laptops are from school - they are replaced every five years.  The folks in "I.T." there were not able to retrieve any of the photo gallery pictures that I hadn't stored in folders.  Sigh.