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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween or All Hallows' Eve?

Our first All Hallows' Eve - 2006
It's that time of year again. The time for pumpkins, scary costumes, hay rides and haunted houses. This festive time of year has been around for centuries and has changed and adapted in different ways. This is a holiday I have always loved and my own idea of it (like the holiday itself ) has also adapted.

My years growing up in New England during the 80's gave way to the regular costumes and trick or treating. Even though I grew up Catholic, my idea of Halloween seemed just like everyone else's ideas. My school would have parties, all the kids dressed up and at night we would go trick or treating. I remember the schools trying to have parties to stop trick or treating because of creepy people putting stuff in the candy. But for some reason these parties never really caught on and trick or treating prevailed. "Just make sure you check for tampered candy before letting your child eat any" experts would say.

As a young mother I questioned how
I would celebrate this holiday
with my children.
As I got older it was as if the kid in me would not let go of this silly holiday. My teen years yielded to haunted hay rides, haunted houses and parties with scary movies. It seemed the scarier the better. In my college years it seemed the scarier and the sexier the costume the better. I got married and became the pregnant lady that passed out candy to the neighborhood children. I would decorate my house all scary-like and I'm pretty sure my hubby enjoyed scaring older children that he thought were to old to be trick or treating.
2007 All Hallows' Eve

As I continued having children I began to think about traditions. Why do we do what we do? Did I want to raise my children the same way I was raised? Which traditions would I hold onto? Which traditions would I recreate? I just could not dress my little babies in scary costumes. I gave way to bubble bee infant costumes and Bob the builder toddler costumes. What was this holiday really about?

My research showed me a Halloween debate between secular and christian origins. Pagans would say that Halloween was always about ghosts and goblins and christians said it was about the Saints. Interesting. I didn't know anyone that celebrated the saints on this day. I dug deeper.

All Hallows' Eve - 2008
Halloween actually started out as Samhain in Ireland. It was an evening of Celtic harvest thanksgiving and much superstition. I began to understand my fascination with this holiday. I mean my grandmother  did travel to this country straight from Ireland. I even know how to do the sign of the cross in Gaelic. Now some people will say the Catholic church stole this holiday and renamed it All Hallows Eve. I say the Catholic Church gave the people something real to celebrate. They were freed from their superstitious fears. Instead of dressing up to disguise themselves from evil or past spirits, they could freely celebrate the people who had gone before them.

Fun with Friends
Soon after this personal discovery of mine, I began to question my own faith and how I would raise my children. (I had fallen away from the practice of the Catholic faith and had a "reversion" back - but I'll save that story for a different post.) I met some other homeschoolers who had an All Hallows' Eve party at a Franciscan Friary. It was totally medieval and seemed to appeal to all us. "Instead of Trick or Treating we are going to a dress up like saints and go to a party. First we go to Mass to remember all these holy souls and then there will be games and candy." I explained to my children.

Bringing All Hallows' Eve to PA - 2009
2010 All Hallows' Eve
All Hallows' Eve is what we have practiced ever since. It is not just about the candy and the costumes or even the harvest. It is so much more. It is a huge party for my friends in heaven. It is a combined celebration of past, present and future. I am able to think of the people gone before me, hang with my friends of the present and reflect upon where my soul will be in the future. My children get to dress up as true heros' and activists that most times would be forgotten. People like Katherine Drexel, Henriette Delille and Pierre Touissant whom did as much as Lincoln for the black people but seemed to only be remembered in Catholic text. All Hallows' Eve is to keep people like them alive our memories. Sure I can read about Saints all year round and I do, and I encourage you to as well. But for one night we can truly celebrate our friends in heaven.

The girls test out their costumes for this year.
My children are preteen and teenagers now and they still love the All Hallows' Eve traditions. We continue to leave the trick or treating behind and celebrate the saints. Sure, I can slap a "Jesus loves you" sticker on a candy bar and pretend that is enough to evangelize. But that message will only get quickly tossed in the trash by the little confection loving tike. And really I should be getting to know my neighbors and community all year long. Of course I still enjoy a few spooks at a local haunted house especially if the admission goes to a local charity, but I remember the true purpose of this holiday.

I have moved around a lot since that first All Hallows' Eve, but I choose to continue this beautiful tradition. I moved to PA and brought this evening alive once more with an evening of Mass, games and candy.  After I moved back to CT my PA friends continued it, I know God is pleased. All Hallows' Eve is a night to bring your heavenly friends back. Bring them back to your Catholic schools and churches. If you are protestant reading this then have a Prophet, Disciple and Christian Marytr party - BTW those are saints! If you don't practice any religion use it as an evening of thanksgiving of the harvest, remember great people in history or your loved ones that have gone before you. Just celebrate goodness.

In these unsure times of "knock out games" and "school shootings" I believe our generation needs more Treats and less tricks. We have so much evil lets celebrate the good. Yeah, Batman and Superman do fight the bad guys but they don't hold a candle to Mother Teresa or Padra Pio!

Happy All Hallows' Eve

Friday, October 24, 2014

Autumn Fires

Fall is my favorite season. Something about the slowing down of this season has always put my hyper-active soul at a quiet pace. I wanted to share my favorite fall poem with you. Since I am a homeschool mom I made all my children memorize this cute poem. They were grateful it was an easy one!

The view from my back deck.
Autumn Fires

In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The gray smoke towers.

Sing a song of season!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!

Robert Louis Stevenson

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Into the Wild with Autumn Olive

Autumn Olive
Latin name:  Elaeagnus umbellata
Every year I usually pick elderberries from my mom's house. She cringes every time and reluctantly tries some of my jelly. "Are you sure it is safe to eat stuff from the wild?" I must admit I am a very, very, cautious wild eater. I check and recheck to be sure. I look at pictures in books,on the internet. I make sure of the size, shape, color, leaf shape of the item I am about to consume. I consult friends and ask people knowledgeable about such things. I grew up in the suburbs so eating wild berries was not something we did. 

Picking the berries.
This summer we helped my parents move into a condo. They are getting older so a condo would be easier for them. I was so busy being excited for them, I forgot about the elderberries. What, no Elderberry Jelly this year!?! I was going to have to find a new source of elderberries.

I have yet to find elderberries on my property, but thought maybe there would be something else. I remembered that last Fall, I was eye-balling these little red-speckled berries in the far corner of my property. I often bring the goats down there because this old pasture has been neglected for many years. I need to shepherd the goats because all the old fencing down there is broken. While the goats munch away, I pray, read, look at the birds and try to identify the different trees, plants and flowers down there. 

Showing off her picks.
A couple of weeks ago, I was doing my shepherd duty when I noticed once again the red-speckled berries. I cut off a branch with berries and leaves to bring up to the house for further investigation. I suspected them to be what I saw at my friend Maria's house a couple of weeks prior. She grew cultivated Autumn Olive. But gee, I had soooo many could it actually be the same thing?

I brought the branch up to the house when I was bombarded by my children. "What are those", "Joe was eating them when he was here" "he said his parents grew them" "we asked if he was sure". 

Also called Autumnberries.
Beautiful Speckled Berries.
Charlotte decided she would wait to see if her friend made it 24 hours and then would make a decision about eating these berries herself. Which brings up another great point about children and eating in the wild. I am happy that my children did not eat something their friend was eating, but they should have told me one of their friends had eaten something they were unsure was edible. I also tell my children to not eat around small children because they may think it is okay to eat everything in the wild. I also remind them to not eat anything that looks similar to poisonous plants without my permission.

You need a lot of these little berries to make juice or jellies.
Freshly washed berries.
Even though I knew my friend's son had eaten them and survived I still did more research. I was so excited when I did completely identify these berries as Autumn Olives. The only thing that may be close is the Russian Olive but that tree clearly has thorns on it. My trees had no thorns at all.

My back field is covered in Autumn Olive.  It is said that it is an invasive species, so what better thing to do than eat an invasive species. Yes, maybe no elderberry jelly this year but there was definitely going to be plenty of Autumn Olive Jelly. 

Cloth on canning funnel on top of jar.
So that is what we did, we picked, we juiced, we canned jelly. We also found a way to save the pulp and make a sort of ketchup like dip. The juice tasted good all by itself. If I had to describe the flavor it would be a watermelon/tomato/cranberry. Which is reasonable because like those other fruits they are high in lycopene which the Autumn Olive-berry is as well.

You can also eat the seeds which are said to be like almonds. They remind me more of the flavor of almond but the texture of fennel. The seeds were not very appealing to me, but at least I know they are safe to eat. 

One of my girls help the juice along.  . .
JUICE: Add rinsed berries to a pot. You may add a small amount of water to prevent burning. Boil until the berries "pop". You can also help it along by mashing the berries. After the berries have popped you can pour or ladle this mixture into a jelly bag or cheese cloth over a jar. You can now let it sit and drip. You can help it if you want by scrapping the bag or by squeezing it. The juice does appear milky. I  read on the internet that sometimes it may turn a complete milk color. Ours did not do this but it did have a milk like substance appear as a layer on top.

Juice may have a milky appearance.
JELLY: make just like your other jelly recipes. I used 8 cups of juice, 1/2 lemon juice, 7 cups of sugar and 2 liquid pectin packs. 

KETCHUP/DIP: we scrapped the pulp, including seeds from the jelly bags right into our food processor. we added garlic, apple cider vinegar, salt , pepper and a dash of sugar. Blended. Yum!

Gigi proud of the juice we made.

I still have some more berries and ideas. I plan on mixing it with rhubarb for tarts and jam.

All and all my experience with Autumn Olives was a great one. I still love Elderberries and will be on a search for them. But, Autumn Olive-Berries are a homestead keeper! Yum. I just love it how God provides.
Autumn Olive-berries make such pretty jellies.

Ketchup like dip made from the pulp.
Have you tried Autumn Olives? 

What did you do with them? 

Have you eaten other things from foraging? 

Let me know your experiences.

I love your comments. 


Delicious and Healthy.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Expanding an Old Farmhouse and Getting Ready for Winter - Part Two - Building a Field Stone Hearth

Selecting the right stone pattern.
Washing and prepping the stones.

Mixing the cement.
Homesteader's are always trying hard to use what they have on hand. Even though we may have wanted tile or brick for our wood stove area we chose to use what our land provided. We walked our fields and woodlands to find all the needed stones for our project. 

Laying down the first field stone.
My husband then laid out the pattern we wanted. He did this outside so he could easily play with this puzzle before bringing anything inside. He also took pictures so he could easily see how this puzzle fit together. 

Piecing the puzzle together.
Next, he built a wooden frame that would be a mold for the hearth area. The frame is to hold the cement and stones together until the cement was set and dry. 
So to cut down on cement cost he used old broken cinder blocks, old brick and other stones as filler.

Making sure things are somewhat level.
When you are mixing cement be sure to be wearing a mask. Cement mix is very dusty. You do not want cement dust in your lungs. 

Almost there.
Project done for the day.  Sleep a much needed reward.

The process of cementing stone is very tedious. I do not know this from personal experience. I know this by the painful task of watching my dear husband do this project. He was constantly checking the height, putting the right about of cement, packing it down and positioning each stone correctly. Every time he put a stone into place my anticipation grew. I knew each stone was a stone closer to having our warm, cozy winter. A hearth with wood stove fire as snow is falling outside. It was hard to have this vision when it was an usually hot day in early September. Even though it was so hot Rob worked on ,as a good husband does, knowing it would provide exactly what his family needed for winter. 
Back to finish the job.

Rob and our sons continued this laborious task for 3 days. My tasks as the wonderful wife/mother were to: #1.  provide food and refreshments throughout the day to the hard workers. #2. rub Rob's tired muscles with a mix of essential oils to help ease any soreness the next day.  And #3. put in my 2 cents whenever I felt the need.

Final step is grouting. 
After the last stone was laid down and cemented. The stones and cement were left to dry for a few days before removing the wooden frame. The whole thing was brushed off and vacuumed to remove any loose cement. The final part was grouting to give it a finished look. 

Grouting looks fun. The kids fight for the job

A job well done.  It took 17 bags of cement, 1 bag of grout, free field stone, other loose stones and recycled cement/brick, 2 great sons and 1 awesome husband. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

St. Francis of Assisi protector of Sanctae Familiae Villa

Ginger lays down
besides her protector
St. Francis of Assisi
I could not let today pass without a special dedication post to a special saint friend of mine. St. Francis and I go way back. I remember him from my childhood. I was drawn to his "way of life", his choice of poverty, his kindness to all including the most beastly of creatures. I continue today to try to imitate this true follower of Christ.

If you do not know much about St. Francis of Assisi I encourage you to do some research on him. And if you do know about him I encourage you to ask him to put a word in for you with God. And if you already have a great relationship with him I encourage you to continue on the Christ like path he chose.

Since he is the patron saint of animals I thought it might be cool to post some prayers and pictures of many of the animals he protects here at Sanctae Familiae Villa.

Psalm 8
O Lord our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth.
O Lord, our Lord,
how glorious is you name over all the earth!
You have exalted your majesty above the heavens.
Black Jack
O Lord our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth When I behold your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars which you set in place -
What is man that you should be mindful of him
or the son of man that you should care for him?
O Lord our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth.
You have given him rule over the works of your hands,
putting all things under his feet:
All sheep and oxen
yes, and the beasts of the field.
O Lord our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth.
The birds of the air, the fishes of the sea,
and whatever swims the paths of the seas.
O Lord our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth.

Some of the egg-laying ladies.




The Prayer of Saint Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.

Mr. Tumnus



            St. Francis of Assisi Blessing
O God, the author and giver of every gift,
animals also are a part of the way you provide help
for our needs and labors.
We pray through the intercession of St. Francis of Assisi,
that you will make available for our use
the things we need to maintain a decent human life.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.




Good St. Francis, you loved all of God's creatures.
To you they were your brothers and sisters.
Help us to follow your example
of treating every living thing with kindness.
St. Francis, Patron Saint of animals,
watch over my pet
and keep my companion safe and healthy.


St. Francis
Pray for us!