2019 Catholic fine art and handmade gift guide!

Off we go! Lots of lovely stuff this year, some Catholic, not all. I could only feature a few items from each store, but many of these artists make a wide variety of goods, so do follow the links and shop around. If you’re ordering for Christmas, be sure to check shipping dates, especially if you’re requesting custom work. 



Delighted to see my friend Sarah offering her lovely, lively designs on these hand-painted cards.

“Located in Claremont, New Hampshire, Sarah spends her days with her husband, 8 children, two dogs, one cat, and working in her community. In the moments between, she creates ink and watercolor images inspired by her love of nature and literature. A lifelong artist, Sarah began selling her work in earnest a year ago. Currently, she offers individually hand-painted greeting cards. “

Sarah’s picks:


and my favorite:



Digital portraits of families and pets, as well as a handful of Tolkien themed goods. “Custom artwork, created by a hobbit at heart.”

An example of a wedding portrait made from a photo:

and a rather cheeky Lord of the Rings-themed vinyl sticker:

Watch the store for painted ornaments, coming soon!

The shop: Southfarthing Studio



“I make sacrifice beads in a variety of styles, featuring different saints. I have several ready-to-ship options in my Etsy store, and I am delighted to take custom orders. As a form of reparations/penance especially given the recent sexual abuse crisis, I always give a portion of my sales to charity. Recent charities have included a pregnancy center and food bank. This month and in December I am giving to a couple families, for their basic needs and also to help provide Christmas presents for their kids.”

The Shop:Vianney Beads



“I sell religious fine art prints and printable Catholic coloring pages to spark interest in the saints and an appreciation for classical art. Currently I’m illustrating a Marian Consecration for Children, coming out next summer, which is why 95% of my pictures are of Our Lady, haha. My new prints are being released November 28.”

Our Lady of Perpetual Help print:


Marian Coloring Book PDF:

One of my favorites: Mystical Rose print:


Art for Prayer. Prints of charcoal, pastel, and oil paint original works. 

Our Lady in Prayer:

Mary Undoer of Knots:




“We create original designs inspired by our Catholic faith that are laser cut in wood and leather for unique pieces of jewelry.”

Our Lady Star of the Sea dog tag with prayer:


St. Patrick Rose Window earrings:


The shop: Ginny and Saje  




“fine art prints, mugs, blankets, pillows, and other home and paper goods with original hand painted and hand lettered art”
Hand painted Christmas ornament:

“It’s okay to feel your feelings” mug

The shop: www.fawnly.com




“Capturing everyday miracles”

Gorgeous landscapes and scenery still catch my eye but it’s the spiritual more than the temporal that has my focus. They also overlap, as you’ll see in the portfolio.

“First Frost” print:

“Psalm 24:10:

“Our Lady of the Petroglyphs”



I love these Morse Code necklaces by my friend Theresa. They look like elegant necklaces but hold a secret meaning spelled out in beads. Customizable. 

“Theresa makes all kinds of beaded jewelry. Her shop started years ago with wrap around rosary bracelets, but her biggest seller now is her beaded Morse Code necklaces. You can even request customized phrases or colors – just make sure to reach out before Dec. 10 for custom orders. Standard orders need to be placed by Dec. 15.”

“Defend us in battle”

“First Things First”



“I work in many different fiber arts– pattern design, knitting, crochet, sewing, embroidery, dyeing, and more. In my shop you’ll find one-of-a-kind embroideries, hand dyed yarn, saintly and geeky crochet dolls (and their patterns), felted art pieces, and whatever else I happen to be making!”

Our Lady of Guadalupe DOLL or PATTERN


Persephone from Hadestown:


And then there’s this:

Also pouches, patterns, and hand-dyed yarn, plus a teeny tiny Fred Rogers. 

The shop: Stitchcraft Yarns



“a variety of products with my digital illustrations: portraits, apparel, and prints for the home. My most recent creation is a series of plush prayer dolls featuring Catholic saints and/or prominent figures on the front, with a prayer on the back.” Illustrations will be rendered as cloth dolls, on the site soon:


A sample of a finished doll:

Many military designs available.The shop: Sieger Design Co.


TURBO TUTOR Teaching Resources

Lesson plans, learning games and teacher aids. Joanne has a few Christmas items listed now, good for activities for Christmas vacation. 

Christmas Trivia Cards: A secular Christmas trivia game for grade 7 and up, drawing on history, literature, modern statistics, geography, and various holiday traditions in December.


Christmas Bingo, grades 6 and up: Out -of-the-ordinary call questions based on the Biblical Christmas story



It’s always way too hard to pick just a few of Elisa’s creations to feature. Here are a few new items:

Illuminated manuscript medieval animal ornaments:


Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart resin pendant or necklace:


Jousting Snails infinity scarf with hidden pocket!


And so much more.

The shop: Door Number 9



Impressionist art, encaustic, watercolor, and more. Many small pieces available for sale.

“All around me, I see the world blossoming. Flowers are blooming, fruit is ripening, children are growing, and colors are exploding. In my art, I love to explore the lusciousness of the natural world. Through painting the moving and growing world, it can be captured and exaggerated to show the pleasure of viewing our stunning surroundings.”

Available for commission. 
The gallery: melissawillett.com


“Shining a little light” 

Customizable pocket Oratories, Rosary Cases, Prayer Blankets and other items.
A customizable linen and wool felt “portable altar” pocket oratory designed for toddlers:
Customizable family-sized pocket oratory:
The shop: Piccolo Di Luce



My readers are by now familiar with Kyra’s stunning, shining jewelry. Here’s something new: tree ornaments made of crystal and steel:


Also available in steel chainmail:


Many new necklaces and earrings, and some gorgeous new rosaries and fidget rosaries:


If you have handmade goods to sell, feel free to leave a link to your shop in the comments. 

Support the artists and craftsmen, save the world! 

What’s for supper? Vol. 192: Paremsan paprika chicken! Gochujang bulgoki! Sesame broccoli! Cranberry muffins! And more

How is it Friday? How?

Here’s what we had this week: 

Chicken burgers, Smartfood, string beans 

Nothing to report. Thank goodness for frozen chicken burgers.

Bagel, egg, cheese, and bacon sandwiches; roast chili butternut squash 

I was the only one who ate the squash, but boy did I enjoy it, and it tasted fantastic with the bacon and eggs with a runny yolk. Jump to Recipe If you’re thinking you won’t bother reading it because butternut squash is so hard to peel, hang on! You cut off the two ends and jab it all over with a fork. Then microwave it for 3-4 minutes. When it cools, you should be able to peel it with a vegetable peeler and cut it without too much trouble. 

This is the time of year when I really lean into food prep as something to savor. I love eating, as my pants size will attest, but I also adore so many of the things that go into cooking. The secret patterns inside onions and Brussels sprouts and red cabbages. The hidden juices that emerge under heat. The gratifying sensation of sliding a knife into just the right spot to separate fat from flesh. It’s a whole thing, let me tell you, and when everything is brown and grey outside, I needs me some butternut squash. I eat up the color with my eyes long before it’s cooked and ready to eat with anyone’s mouth.

I made the squash with olive oil, honey, freshly-ground pepper and sea salt, and a little chili powder. 


Did I mention that a little runny egg yolk with bacon and roast squash is a thing? It’s a thing. 

Screw you, November. 

Beef barley soup, cranberry muffins

We just had this soup recently, but there were some bad feelings about how I used orzo instead of barley, so I made it again, with barley. Jump to Recipe

This time, there were bad feelings because I made cranberry muffins Jump to Recipeinstead of pumpkin muffins. Jump to RecipeIt’s a shame how I never put much effort into cooking for my family. I am ashamed. 

The truth is, the muffins were a bit of a flop, literally. I made the batter but got distracted by something or other, and didn’t bake it until later, and I guess it rose and fell before it hit the oven, so the muffins came out flat. 

Still a good flavor, though, even though the kids requested no walnuts.

Paprika chicken with tomatoes and peppers

New recipe! I got this recipe from the NYT and went ahead and bought expensive smoked paprika for it, too. Solid choice. This is a gorgeous, fragrant, satisfying one-pan meal, and very easy to throw together. Jump to RecipeNext time, I might make a hearty bread like challah Jump to Recipeor maybe some buttered egg noodles, but it was good by itself, too. 

I simplified it a bit, so I’ll put my card at the end. You toss chicken parts in a simple little dressing including paprika and apple cider vinegar, and put them in a pan with lovely tomatoes and peppers

top with parmesan

and cook it all together. You can fuss with the sauce at the end, but I just sprinkled some more cider vinegar on top, and a little parsley, and it was yummy.

Sweet, bright, and moist, with that wonderful smoked paprika giving it some good depth of flavor. 

Easy and popular! The hardest part was cutting up all those tomatoes, but if you’re not cooking for a crowd, that won’t take long. Definitely going into the rotation. Jump to Recipe

Hamburgers and chips, carrots and dip

Nothing to report, except that, for over twenty years, I’ve been making hamburgers in the oven, instead of on the stove top. I make nice, flat patties between two plates, season them heavily, and put them on a broiler pan with drainage, then slide them under a hot broiler, turning once. This way, I don’t get all greasy while cooking, a lot of the fat drains away, and the patties don’t puff up into balls. This is, as I say, how I’ve been doing it for over twenty years. 

So on Wednesday, I made a bunch of patties, seasoned them, and started cooking them in pans on the stovetop, for no reason at all. I didn’t even know I was doing it until I heard them sizzling and wondered where the sound was coming from. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Now if you’ll stop hassling me, maybe I can get back to my RV and do another cook. 

Gochujang bulgoki with rice and nori; roasted sesame broccoli

This was a sad day for me. I was so excited that the boneless pork ribs I forgot to freeze hadn’t gone bad, but once I got them all sliced up, and cut up a bunch of onions, and chopped up a bunch of carrots using the hand grater after ordering a new slicing disk for the food processor I bought at the Salvation Army, I went to make the gochujang sauce and discovered . . . we were out of guchujang. 

https://www.maxpixel.net/Statue-Venice-Ancient-Myth-Sculpture-Orpheus-3153008 (Creative Commons)

Last I knew, I was the proud owner of a one-pound tub of gochujang (Korean fermented hot pepper paste) and a five-pound tub of gochujang. But all I could find was a pathetic little tube of gochujang sauce I had bought one time in a fit of weakness. It turns out I had paid one of the kids to clean out the fridge and told him to use his judgement about what to save, and this was the choice he made. 

https://pixabay.com/photos/eye-manipulation-tears-art-sad-2274884/ (Creative Commons)

Well. Sometimes these things happen, and you just have to pick yourself up and go on with your life, so that is what I did. I used the gochujang sauce in place of the gochujang in my gochujang sauce, and it bore a passing resemblance to gochujang bulgoki. I went ahead and ordered some more gochujang, and it arrived this morning. Sometimes these things happen. Jump to Recipe

It was actually decent meal, just not what I was expecting. You can take a piece of nori and use it to grab up a bite of pork and rice and eat it in little bundles. 

The broccoli is a nice, simple recipe. Cut broccoli into spears, drizzle with sesame oil and soy sauce, sprinkle with pepper and sesame seeds, spread in a shallow pan, and roast. Delicious. Jump to Recipe

Mac and cheese

I have gone back to making the cheese sauce in a pan and then adding it to the cooked macaroni and then baking it in the oven. The Instant Pot recipe is okay in a pinch, but we really prefer it the old fashioned way. I do like adding some hot sauce to the cheese sauce. Good stuff. Jump to Recipe

There are a lot of recipes this week, so I’m going to make them on a separate page. It might be a bit hard to find until I figure out a better way, so be sure to look for the little box with a 2 in it, and click on that! That will bring you to the recipe page. Happy Friday, cheese bags.


Magnificat Advent Companion app giveaway!

This year, Advent begins on Dec. 1, so all those chocolate and whiskey and novelty underwear advent calendars* will actually work out right for once! However, if you’re looking for a little boost to help you focus on spiritual growth, I recommend Magnificat. I am a subscriber and it’s a wonderful way to start the day.

In addition to their daily spiritual guide, Magnificat puts out an annual Advent Companion, available in print and digital form.

I have four codes for a free copy of the digital version to give away — two for iOs and two for Android. To enter into the giveaway, use the Rafflecopter forms at the bottom of this post. Please note: THERE ARE TWO SEPARATE GIVEAWAYS, ONE FOR ANDROID AND ONE FOR iOS! Be sure to enter the contest for the code you can use on your device! 

Good luck! I’ll pick a winner this weekend. If you don’t win, the book version is $4.99 and the app versions are $2.99.

*I assume these exist



Here are some screenshots of the digital version:

Here is their description of the Advent Companion:

This pocket-sized Companion follows a practical, page-a-day format and features original meditations on each day’s Gospel by one of twenty-four gifted authors.

Each year’s Advent Companion is different from the last, and contains these one-of-a-kind extras that you won’t find anywhere else:

– A variety of beautiful and practical blessings
– An Advent Penance Service
– Specially-commissioned poetry
– Advent Stations
– Praying the O Antiphons

Advent is that sacred season of anticipation and expectation in which we come to terms with the deepest yearning of our soul—a yearning fulfilled only in Jesus Christ. As we wait in longing for the coming of the Christ Child at Christmas, we turn over to him all the false satisfactions—the compromises—of our life. To live Advent is to live in the awareness of a Presence that changes us. 

Our Advent preparation is marked by vigilance—custody of the heart, in which we keep our soul fixed on the Lord. For what we see incarnate in the infant Jesus we desire for ourselves: purity, innocence, childlikeness restored. In the birth of this Child we know the promise of our own spiritual rebirth.

This rich spiritual companion will accompany you like a beloved friend through the four weeks of Advent with poignant scriptural reflections for each day of the season. You will also find a wealth of meditative prayers, essays, and poetry, an examination of conscience, and a unique feature:
the Advent Stations. If you long for the nearness of God in your life, this invaluable little booklet promises to bring you ever closer to the One who promised: I am with you always (Mt 28:20).

Rafflecopter entry forms below:


a Rafflecopter giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Getting better

There are plenty of empty seats, vinyl and chrome, at the DMV. It’s a slow hour and a small town, so we don’t have long to wait. My daughter has an appointment for a driving test. She’s the first of my ten children to take the test, not so many years after I first got my own license. I know she is ready; I taught her myself. It will be different for her than it was for me. It has already been different.

I choose a spot and open the novel I am reading to review; but soon I fold down a page corner and settle in to judging everyone who comes in the door.

Here’s a couple who carry such a powerful stench of stale Marlboros, I want to invent a time machine just so I can go back to 1992 and kick my own ass for ever having been a smoker. I started smoking mainly to annoy my father, only to fearfully keep it a secret. But for heaven’s sake, I must have smelled. He must have known.

The man in line has a classic New Hampshire wood stove tan, which you get when you go all winter without hardly bathin cause it’s too damn cold, an the friggin wood stove keeps fillin the house with friggin smoke. So by January, all the pores you leave exposed are full of soot. It’s been a mild winter, though, so who knows. 

His companion, a silent woman the shape of a fire hydrant, wears pajama bottoms and a slithery blue jacket from an excavation company. Her hair is a pelt. They are here to straighten out some trouble involving the hasty purchase of a dirt bike by a nephew who’s since gone upstate. The paperwork went bad somewhere along the line, and all the desk clerk can advise is that the man put all his scenarios together on a piece of paper, come back again, and hope for the best. Impassive, he drops his crumpled number in a basket and they shamble out, empty-handed.

Once the heavy glass doors have closed behind the pair, the three front desk clerks confer with each other like the fates. It’s still quiet at the DMV, and as the waiting room monitor chatters on about how to get the new “Real ID,” they have the leisure to chat about how anyone might alter the fates of the man, his fire hydrant wife, the upstate nephew, and the illicit dirt bike. They all agree there is no hope. Any talk of scenarios and verifications was a fantasy, a dead end. The nephew is doomed. 

They also frown over the case of a mechanic who came in earlier. He wanted credit not only for his unused 2019 inspection stickers but also for his unused 2018 inspection stickers. He didn’t even friggin care if he got his money back, he said; he just friggin didn’t want them on his hands no more. One clerk, Angie, mentions what he does not: That the reason he’s there is because the police stopped by his shop, hunting down the missing stickers. The others are surprised that they would bother; but Angie briskly notes that someone has to keep track of these things, get people to do what they need to do.

Angie, who wears the loudest shoes, is knocking jobs off her list like a maniac. The others remind each other that she’s always this way after she goes up to Concord. They have recently discovered that Concord is watching them on the monitor, so every time Angie comes back from Concord, it’s like she’s in a friggin frenzy, gettin stuff done.

I look down at my hands, which are white and a little dry. I underline a few telling passages in my book. Then my daughter blows in with a huff of winter air. She has passed her test; she is pleased. I am pleased. I’m proud of her, but I’m even more proud of myself, because I’m the one who taught her how to drive. She is not me. I have made some changes. 

No one taught me how to drive until I was 24 and in my third trimester, and I passed my driving test two weeks after giving birth. There was a three-year-old and a two-year-old in the back seat as we lurched around the deserted parking lot in the evenings, practicing and practicing, trying to get better. They cried, and I cried, but I friggin learned how to drive. Nobody cried when I taught my daughter. She says with blithe confidence that now we’ll have to make her a copy of my key, so she can use my car whenever she needs it. If there’s anything she’s afraid to tell me, she hides it well.

I had plans to get myself a Real ID while here at the DMV. I have a license, but it’s not sufficient identification to fly. I have a speech to deliver soon in Chicago, but now, to get on a plane and fly out of the state of New Hampshire, you need a Real ID. I thought it would be easy, but looking over the paper work, I see it’s more complicated than I’d realized.

Angie snaps my beaming daughter’s picture, and the driving instructor slides into the seat beside me. “Mom?” he asks. I nod yes. “She did well,” he says. There were some rolling stops, and she didn’t always check her blind spot, but she did well. He says she is a safe driver, or will be.

I remember the look my own driving instructor gave me as I made one final stab at parking inside the lines. It was rough. Maybe he saw the three carseats crammed in the back seat, the dunes of pulverized graham crackers that lay between them, the impenetrable dust and grime on the dashboard that I tried to wipe clean but could not. I parked poorly, and didn’t try a second time, because I knew it wasn’t going to get any better than that. “That…” he said, “…was rough.”

“I know,” I said.

But he let me pass. And I did get better. I got so much better than I can teach other people how to drive without shouting, without making them feel like fools. I work hard; I pay my bills; my papers are in order. I shower. I wear appropriate clothing. I am clean. I have no discernible accent. I do not own a dirt bike. I keep busy even when no one is watching. No policemen come knocking at my door; and as far as I know, no one is afraid of me.

I run my hand over my hair, which is freshly cut. And I know how I sound: Like I think I’m better than everyone else. It’s not that. It’s just that I’m better than I used to be. My daughter has the paperwork to prove it.

But I still don’t have sufficient identification to fly out of this state. I still need a Real ID. Before the heavy glass door closes behind us, I snatch up a pamphlet that tells me what I still friggin need to do. 

Image by Circe Denyer (Creative Commons)

What’s for supper? Vol. 191: Chimichurri! Korean meatballs! Pomegranate salad! Challah! And more

I have some catching up to do! I didn’t do a food post last week, but I have a bunch of pictures which I shall now dump on you so I don’t feel like I’ve wasted my life. Yes, that is how it works. I don’t make the rules. 

Today’s post was so long, I split it into two pages, so be sure to click on “next page” or the little “2” at the end to get to this week’s recipes. There are some doozies in there. 

Last week was Halloween, which means I was inspired to transform regular meatloaf into SPOOKY MEATLOAF. Jump to Recipe

Whole other kind of scary when baked:

I eventually got around to roasting pumpkin seeds:

I like to leave a certain amount of pumpkin pulp in there, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle generously with kosher salt, put in a 250 oven, and then leave the house do to several errands and completely forget about the pumpkin seeds. *mwah*

I signed up for cookies for school parties this year, using my no-fail sugar cookie recipe with dough you do not have to chill. Any time you need cookies that will hold their shape, this is your recipe. Jump to Recipe

For the icing, I just used confectioner’s sugar and milk and food coloring. If you let the decorated cookies dry for several hours, the icing becomes firm enough to stack. I did use store-bought “cookie icing” for the details. Not my most deft work, and it’s possible I yelled at everyone kind of a lot, but those kids sure ate those cookies. 

Benny had her heart set on Frankenstein rice krispie treats for her class, so this is what we came up with. I made the first one, and then she made the rest all by herself!

For all you pedants who want to shove your glasses up your nose and explain that actually Frankenstein is the one who made the monster, I direct you to the photo on the above right, in which Benny is making monsters. 

Also last week we had a lovely chicken pomegranate salad: Roast chicken breast, pomegranate seeds, feta cheese, and toasted pecans with wine vinegar. Yum.

I got ambitious and decided to make challah. I really rushed and didn’t measure properly, so it didn’t rise enough and was pretty dense on the bottom. It still got gobbled up. Jump to Recipe

I used “everything bagel” topping instead of poppy seeds, and I shall now do that forever. Here’s a picture of a past challah that turned out better, although I skimped a bit on the egg wash:

Let’s see, what else? Maybe you would like to see our Halloween costumes! I don’t yet have a photo of Clara, which is a shame, as she spent many hours sewing leaves and tulle onto a dress to be a lovely autumn fairy.

Moe was Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors:

Dora was Wirt from Over the Garden Wall (and learned how to use the sewing machine during the making of this costume):

Lucy and Sophia saved up money and bought themselves fancy costumes so they could be Naruto and Sasuke:

My contribution was to talk Lucy out of spending a lot of money on orange pants, and buying a pair of Merrells at the Salvation Army for $5 and stoically forcing myself to chop the toes off to make into ninja shoes. 

Corrie’s dream came true and she was Scooby Doo, and with only a little bit of sewing, Benny made a lovely Daphne:

And finally, Irene saved the universe as Star from Star Vs. the Forces of Evil:

She made the wand all by herself, completely out of foam sheets! I added the collar and octopus (?) to the dress with felt and made the boots. I am extremely proud of those boots. Duct tape, man. She wore them for three days before they started falling apart.

Whew! I think we’re all caught up. Here’s the recipes for last week. After the recipes comes page two! Please don’t skip it! There are some awesome recipes in there. 

5 from 1 vote

No-fail no-chill sugar cookies

Basic "blank canvas"sugar cookies that hold their shape for cutting and decorating. No refrigeration necessary. They don't puff up when you bake them, and they stay soft under the icing. You can ice them with a very basic icing of confectioner's sugar and milk. Let decorated cookies dry for several hours, and they will be firm enough to stack.

Servings 24 large cookies


  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1-2 tsp vanilla and/or almond extract. (You could also make these into lemon cookies)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 cups flour


  1. Preheat oven to 350.

  2. Cream together butter and sugar in mixer until smooth.

  3. Add egg and extracts.

  4. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking powder.

  5. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter and sugar and mix until smooth.

  6. Roll the dough out on a floured surface to about 1/4 inch. Cut cookies.

  7. Bake on ungreased baking sheets for 6-8 minutes. Don't let them brown. They may look slightly underbaked, but they firm up after you take them out of the oven, so let them sit in the pan for a bit before transferring to a cooling rack.

  8. Let them cool completely before decorating!

5 from 1 vote

Meatloaf (actually two giant meatloaves)


  • 5 lbs ground beef
  • 2 lbs ground turkey
  • 8 eggs
  • 4 cups breadcrumbs
  • 3/4 cup milk

salt, pepper, garlic powder or fresh garlic, onion powder or minced onions, fresh parsley, etc.

  • ketchup for the top


  1. Preheat oven to 450

  2. Mix all meat, eggs, milk, breadcrumbs, and seasonings together with your hands until well blended.

  3. Form meat into two oblong loaves on pan with drainage

  4. Squirt ketchup all over the outside of the loaves and spread to cover with spatula. Don't pretend you're too good for this. It's delicious. 

  5. Bake for an hour or so, until meat is cooked all the way through. Slice and serve. 


Challah (breaded bread)


  • 1.5 cups warm water
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 6-8 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tsp yeast
  • 2 egg yolks for egg wash
  • poppy seeds or "everything bagel" topping (optional)
  • corn meal (or flour) for pan, to keep loaf from sticking


  1. In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the water, stir gently, and let sit for five minutes.

  2. In the bowl of standing mixer, put the flour (starting with six cups), salt, sugar, oil, and eggs, mix slightly, then add the yeast liquid. Mix with dough hook until the dough doesn't stick to the sides of the bowl, adding flour as needed. It's good if it has a slightly scaly appearance on the outside.

  3. Put the dough in a greased bowl and lightly cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap. Let it rise in a warm place for at least an hour, until it's double in size.

  4. Grease a large baking sheet and sprinkle it with flour or corn meal. Divide the dough into four equal pieces. Roll three into "snakes" and make a large braid, pinching the ends to keep them together. Divide the fourth piece into three and make a smaller braid, and lay this over the larger braid.

  5. Cover and let rise again for at least an hour. Preheat the oven to 350.

  6. Before baking, make an egg wash out of egg yolks and a little water. Brush the egg wash all over the loaf, and sprinkle with poppy seeds or "everything" topping.

  7. Bake 25 minutes or more until the loaf is a deep golden color.

Don’t forget to click on the “2” to see the whole other page! I need to work on a way to make it more obvious next time, because this is stupid. 

A cautious PSA about PANDAS and rapid onset OCD and anxiety in kids

‘Tis the season of strep throat and norovirus and other infections, and that is bad enough. But some researchers and doctors believe that infections can occasionally trigger a misdirected autoimmune response, especially in children, that causes sudden, alarming psychiatric symptoms: extreme anxiety, OCD, intrusive thoughts including suicidal ideation, tics, sudden difficulty with math and handwriting, and sensory problems.

The illness is called PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections) or PANS (Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome). A child who’s otherwise healthy develops these symptoms literally overnight, and while the infection that triggered them can be cured, no treatment seems to alleviate the psychiatric symptoms.

I know that not all medical professionals accept PANS/PANDAS as a legitimate diagnosis, and that a lot of very nutty people have latched onto it. I am not a doctor or a scientist. I’m simply a mom passing along information about something that has helped other parents, and that is the entirety of what I know about it. I know three moms — sensible, educated people who accept modern, western medicine, not gullible, fearful, or prone to woo — who had run out of other explanations for their kids’ sudden change in behavior, and got no relief from the normal treatment (therapy, SSRIs). They talked to their doctors about PANS/PANDAS and then gave their kids n-acetyl l-cysteine (NAC), which you can get over the counter. NAC is normally used to prevent asthma attacks and treat rashes, but it truly seems to have cured these kids of their psychological symptoms. 

I am not making any claims about this hypothesized illness or this hypothesized treatment, as I’m not qualified in any way to do so (and I’m certainly not getting any kind of kickback or payment, other than what I normally earn from page views of this site). I’m just passing along what I have heard, because I know how it feels to see a kid suffering and to not know how to help. This is just one more thing to consider.

So if your kid develops anxiety or other inexplicable psychiatric disorders, please don’t immediately assume it’s PANDAS, and please don’t try to treat it without professional help. We have a few kids who suffer with severe anxiety, and it’s not PANDAS. Lots and lots of things can cause psychological symptoms, and sometimes there is more than one cause. But if you and your doctor have tried all kinds of other treatments and nothing is helping, and the kid did have an infection before a very sudden onset of the symptoms, this is something to consider. 

Image: Sherif Salama via Flickr (Creative Commons)


A hymn to household saints

For all the saints
Who’ve lost their arms and head;
For those whose poor legs
Are now duct tape instead;
For those long gone
Beneath my bad kid’s bed:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For all the saints
Whose words are super true,
Who labored hard
To preach to me and you:
Please try again,
Until your face is blue:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For all the saints
Whose names our babies bear,
Please take their hands
(And maybe brush their hair).
We’re working hard,
Not getting anywhere.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For all the saints
Up on those dusty shelves.
You see the pits
The human spirit delves.
Ask God for mercy.
We can’t save ourselves.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For all our saints,
This day is just for you.
You’re with God now.
You need something to do?
Then pray for us!
We’re leaning hard on you.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Totally doable Halloween treats for your kid’s party

I’m having some kind of domestic spasm, so I’ll be making treats for Halloween parties tomorrow. If you’re still scrambling for ideas, here are some low-skill treats we’ve done in the past:

Photo by Jim Hammer: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hammer51012/14457177985 (Creative Commons)

Very easy, if somewhat time consuming, and the kids loved them.  Apple slices, peanut butter, mini marshmallows. You can also use Nutella for the sticky part, and you can use almonds for the teeth. If you have to go nut-free, you could use pink icing for the gums, but you’ll want to dry the apples thoroughly so it sticks. 

You could also use two almond slivers in between marshmallow teeth for a sort of vampire effect. The apples brown a tiny bit but the kids don’t care. If you care, you could dip them in lemon juice after cutting. 


Pretzel rods dipped in candy coating or melted chocolate can be ghost sticks or magic wands. I can’t seem to find a pic of the ghost ones, but here’s the basic idea. You dip pretzel rods in melted white candy melts, or else melt white chocolate and stir in a little melted shortening to make it smoother and harden better. While they’re wet, add mini chocolate chips or raisins or whatever else edible you can find to make faces; or let them dry and pipe face on with dark icing that hardens, such as royal icing

For magic wands, dip the pretzel rods in various colors of melted candy coating (white, orange, purple, and green are Halloweeny) and melted chocolate with a bit of melted shortening stirred in. While it’s wet, sprinkle on whatever fancy decorations you can find, including sugars, sprinkles, candy eyeballs, candy corn, etc. Kids absolutely love these, especially if you present a lot of different kinds to choose from. 

SKULL COOKIES with or without glowing eyeballs

Use this foolproof no-need-to-chill sugar cookie recipe and cut out a bunch of skulls. Frost in white, easy peasy. My kids made these one year entirely on their own. I thought the frosting job they did was terrifying. 

OR, you could get a little fancier and fill the eyes with crushed hard candies before baking, so they glowwww spoooooookily. But YOU MUST USE PARCHMENT PAPER TO LINE THE PAN.


If you can’t find a skull cookie cutter, but you can find your gingerbread cookie cutter, you make make skeletons. Here’s a picture from someone who went all out with several layers of icing:

https://www.maxpixel.net/Pastry-Skeletons-Love-Cookies-Festival-Dead-2220291 (public domain)

but if you use a dark dough, like gingerbread, and pipe the white bones directly onto the cookie. Or you could make regular sugar cookie dough and mix some food coloring in. Pipe the bones on with white and you have cute pastel skeleton guys.


And one year, I’m not proud of this, but we did make the incredibly classy throwing up jack-o’-lantern, with a mini pumpkin and guacamole. You could also use queso instead of guac. Again, I cannot find the picture, but I think I even sprang for the fancy purple corn chips. 

How about you?  Did you make any rash promises?  Any disasters to report?

50 poems to print and hang on the wall

Every so often, I get a bee in my bonnet about poetry. When we homeschooled, we read and sometimes memorized poems. We’ve since moved on to other kinds of schooling, and it’s been a good choice, overall. But to my everlasting chagrin, so many teachers teach my kids that poetry is a kind of catch basin for emotion.

Prose, they learn, is for when you have orderly thoughts to express with precision; but poetry is the place to open the floodgates and wallow, and nobody can possibly say you’re doing it wrong, because there are no rules.

And this is true, as long as the poetry is utter garbage. 

This utter garbage approach to poetry accounts for why so many young people love to write but hate to read poetry. Wallowing feels great when you’re in the middle of it (when you’re in the mood), but no healthy person likes to watch someone else flail around aimlessly in the muck.

A good poem works in the opposite way: The writer does all the work, and the reader — well, the reader has to do some work, too, but if he’s willing, he’ll be rewarded with something of great and lasting value. Have you seen an uncut, unpolished diamond? It doesn’t look like much. Most of its beauty is in its potential, and it’s not until it’s carefully, skillfully cut and polished that it sparkles and reflects the light.

The same is true with the ideas and passions that animate poetry. In a formless stream-of-consciousness poem that’s allowed to spill itself thoughtlessly onto the page, the ideas and passions that animate it may be present, but they won’t do much for the reader until they’re brought out by skillful, time-consuming wordsmithing and ruthless editing.

Of course, you can make perhaps the opposite mistake, and approach a well-crafted poem the way a dealer approaches a precious jewel, and think only of what it can deliver. This is what Billy Collins protested against in his poem, Introduction to Poetry. He pleads with his students to listen to, to live with a poem; to encounter it on its own terms, to experience it. To hear the sounds it makes and be open to the various things they might suggest.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope 
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose 
to find out what it really means.

People who teach poetry this way should be sent to work in the salt mines. They can meet up with the wallowers once a week and think about what they’ve done wrong.

Anyway, as I mentioned, every once in a while I get a bee in my bonnet and start printing out poetry and tacking it up on the walls of my house. I pin up a new batch every year or so, and once they become tattered enough, I tell myself they’ve probably been read by somebody. I’m far too tired and busy to lead any seminars, but at least it’s something.

The theory is that it’s possible to ruin a wonderful poem by torturing a message or moral out of it, and it’s possible to miss out on the power and import of a good poem by skimming over the surface of it and not stopping to consider why it’s made the way it is; but at least with the second error, you’ve had a moment of pleasure. And if the thing is hanging around long enough and the poem is good enough, you’re bound to let it inside your head, where it may colonize.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

photo credit: emileechristine Bejeweled via photopin (license)

The battles you can actually win

Fr. Jacob Boddicker, SJ wrote this on Facebook yesterday. I kept reading it over and over. I’m sharing here with his permission. 

I know a lot of my brothers and sisters are worried and frustrated at things that are happening in the Church recently. But I wanted to tell you that just within the limited realm of my influence:

Two people who had not been to confession in many, many years finally came to our Lord’s mercy this weekend.

Six young people–five from my parish and one from out of town–will be confirmed by me this coming weekend.

I know a young woman who is recovering from surgery who cried when the Eucharist was brought to her today (she could not attend Mass because of said recovery).

Around twenty youth from different religious backgrounds came to my parish hall to learn a little about Jesus tonight. No one made them; they came because they wanted to. It is a cooperative event put together by myself and three pastors from other denominations, and I was able to show a video I made about young saints. They were struck by St .Joan of Arc especially, and St. Jose Sanchez del Rio.

These are little flowers I cultivated in my garden today; little victories granted here on my small patch of the Lord’s campaign against Hell. Is what goes on in Rome and elsewhere important? Yes. But brothers and sisters we are just infantrymen in a vast battle against Satan; if we run to the hilltops to try and take in the vastness of the war in order to determine what way it is going, we will not only inevitably be frustrated and discouraged, but the battles placed immediately before us will go unfought and potentially be lost. You will look abroad and see chaos because you cannot hear the commands of the generals or know their strategies, and likewise it is far easier to see a column of smoke or flame from afar than it is to see a flag of victory. Yet if you mind what the Lord puts immediately before you, things are far more clear and far more hopeful.

Look to your patch of the battlefield and fight the battles the Lord puts before you: the battles you can actually fight and, through fidelity, perseverance, and holiness, you can actually win.

These little victories the Lord granted me today are so small in the grand scheme of things, but consider the fact that an avalanche can destroy an entire town and is made of snowflakes, or that a tsunami can devastate vast regions and is made of drops of water. “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain…” (John 15:16).

What good is it to despair about wooden idols in Rome when there are souls slipping closer to Hell all around you: souls you might actually help? Pray, certainly, but do not despair. Do not waste your ammunition trying to fire long-range when you could use your ammo–your prayers and your every holy effort–to far greater effect at short range! “Pray, hope, and don’t worry,” St. Padre Pio says. Yes, pray for the Lord’s success in those far-away campaigns we read about in blogs and articles, and hear of in podcasts and videos. But do not neglect the battle raging on before you, the very skirmishes entrusted directly to you!

Will our victories be great? No, likely not. But even a small victory over Satan is absolutely crushing to one so proud; the smallest holy victory, the smallest berry of holy fruit and news of it drops like an atomic bomb of humiliation on Hell. It seems to me that if all of Heaven rejoices at the repentance of a single sinner (Luke 15:7, 10), the whole triumph of God over Satan and his cronies Sin and Death will not ultimately be the result of a massive battle that decides everything all at once, but rather the climax of a million small battles that overwhelm the enemy from all sides until, at last, he is absolutely cornered and Our Lord has him right where He wants him.

Image: Detail of Caravaggio’s Madonna and Child With St. Anne via wikipedia (public domain)