Monday, September 14, 2015

Feast of the Holy Cross

Detail of my Summer 2015 Quarter Year Liturgical Calendar
September 14 - The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is one of the markers for the seasonal-liturgical calendar year. Holy Cross Day marked the beginning of monastic winter in some communities; the Rule of St. Benedict has a summer and winter schedule for the monks' working, eating, and prayer days, and as the days grew noticeably shorter, this was the point in which the schedule changed over--meals would be lighter since outdoor work would be decreasing. 

"From the Ides of September until the beginning of Lent
let them always take their dinner at the ninth hour.
But this evening hour shall be so determined
that they will not need the light of a lamp while eating,
Indeed at all seasons
let the hour, whether for supper or for dinner, be so arranged
that everything will be done by daylight."
--from Chapter 41 of the RSB

Holy Cross Day also is the marker for the Ember Days at the end of of summer, arriving near the autumnal equinox (September 23 this year) and before the next Quarter Day, Michaelmas (September 29). The Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, following the Sunday after Holy Cross Day (got that?), are the Ember Days, which are days of thanksgiving, prayer and fasting in appreciation of the harvest, the fruits of the earth and the fruits of the Spirit, all of which grow and nourish us, thanks to the grace of God. 

Ember Days at a glance
Reflect & orient oneself to the coming season 
Wednesday: give thanks for the harvest - devotion to Mary
Friday: we ask the Lord to bless our labors - light a candle and pray for the souls of loved ones 
Saturday: anticipating the celebration - pray for priests & vocations

These would be good days for garden clean up, planting new trees (before that first frost hits), preparing for colder and wetter days ahead. I have grapes and basil to harvest, as well as a lot of summer greens to clear up and out. The pumpkins and squash are doing great still, but you can feel the garden starting to die back with less sunlight and more cold days.  

Holy Cross is also my parish, so this is our patronal feast day. One Eastern Orthodox Christian practice I read about for Holy Cross is the veneration of the cross (on the vigil of the feast) by placing a small cross on a tray, surrounded by basil leaves and flowers. This would be part of the feast's liturgy, and would be venerated (kissed) and incensed in a procession. This idea could easily be adapted for home use as part of your family evening prayer time. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Autumn 2015

It's my birthday, so like any good hobbit, I have gifts for my party guests! Here is a copy of my Autumn 2015 liturgical quarter calendar for each of you to print and color. Enjoy!

Auturmn 2015 by LeeAnn Balbirona

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

In Color: Summer 2015

If coloring isn't your thing, here is a colored version of Summer 2015. 
See the previous post for b&w version.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Mother Nature Bedtime Story

Every night when I put my son to bed we say two prayers together: the St. Michael Prayer ("his" prayer) and another one ("my" prayer), which varies. The other night we were saying the Hail Mary and Ewan asked me:

"What's a womb?"
"The place where a baby grows in a mom's body."
"How can Jesus have a womb? He's a man."

Oh, I see the confusion. Like the difference between "Let's eat, Grandma!" and "Let's eat Grandma!" he hears the prayer as saying, "Blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus!" forgetting that the entire prayer is addressed to someone else (Mary), not Jesus at all.

"In the Hail Mary prayer we are talking to Mary, Jesus' mother, so when we say "blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus," we are saying "blessed is your son, Jesus."
"Oh. What does fruit of the womb mean?"
"Like a tree makes fruit. An apple tree makes an apple. Mary is like a tree and Jesus is the fruit."

Connections sparking in his 9-year-old brain...

"And God is like the rain that makes the tree grow!"
"Sure, or maybe the Holy Spirit is like the rain?" I suggest, though like all analogies, it is also imperfect and fails to fully explain divine truth.

"OK, then God the Father is the Sun."
"Yep, that makes sense."

And then he comes up with another connection.

"There's also Mother Nature," he says.
"Hmm, Mother Nature is more an idea, not a real person," I say.
"Mother Nature is real too. Mary is Mother Nature."

Just when I thought this was going well, it seems like he's got his religion and mythology mixed. I start blaming myself for every fantasy-based cartoon and movie he's ever watched.

"Mary is Mother Nature because she makes everything beautiful," he concludes.


"Wow, Ewan, that makes me really happy that you understand things that way. Not everyone does!"

Even if it is not perfectly correct theology, it is great that he is making analogies to understand the Faith for himself and sees Mary as a beautiful mother who helps make the world more beautiful too.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Goodbye, green.
Goodbye, gloria.
Farewell, alleluia.
Hello, Lent.

It was a bright, warm, and sunny morning in the Pacific Northwest. A few fruit trees in the neighborhood have even started blossoming. What a strange early spring.

As we were all singing the Gloria for the last Sunday of this season of Ordinary Time this morning, I felt as if we were packing away the rest of the winter decorations. Ash Wednesday is coming!

Lenten roses I saw recently, growing near white flowering kale, at the Chihuly glass garden.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Early Signs of Spring

There are only six short weeks of Ordinary Time between the Christmas Season and the beginning of Lent. Ash Wednesday is two weeks from today. Are you ready? My Christmas boxes are STILL sitting in the corner of the dining room....

February 1, 2, and 3 are days traditionally associated with looking for spring to arrive. February 1 is St. Brigid's Day. February 2 is Candlemas, more commonly celebrated in the USA on this date is Groundhog Day. February 3 is the Japanese holiday called Setsubun. It's interesting to compare how all these late-winter-but-looking-for-spring holidays are similar.

"February" comes from the Roman "Februa," a purification festival held at this time of year, associated with spring cleaning or washing. Many of the February first festivals have to do with getting rid of winter illnesses. One of my favorite things to do this time of year, when the sun shines on rare occasion and I finally notice all the winter dust on the floors, is to clean while all the windows are open. I turn off the central heat as well and let the house get as cool as it can for a day. (Here, that means it gets down to about 60F without the heat on for 12 hours. Outdoors it is usually 40-50F.) Letting in fresh, frigid winter air is a common way of airing out the house and getting rid of dampness that encourages bacteria to grow. And it just makes everything smell better. 

St. Brigid's Day (Feb. 1) was important to the early Scots and Irish. It is also called Imbolc, and marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Unlike the English, who got many of their festival customs from the Romans and so celebrated the quarter days (Dec 25, March 25, June 24, Sept 29), the Scots and Irish seem to have marked the cross-quarter days (Feb 1, May 1, August 1, Nov. 1) with feasting and celebrations. This is also when the rents and repayment of debts were due, and later, when school terms began.

I don't know a lot about Brigid, but supposedly she was a pagan goddess whose legend merged with that of a Christian saint. She's associated with fire (another form of purification), and the blessing of the earth in preparation for new planting. Somewhat similar to leaving out milk and cookies for St. Nick, the ancients would prepare a hospitable welcome for Brigid by making up a bed of hay for her, someone would dress up as Brigid and knock to be let in, and then the blessing and feasting would begin. Hospitality was rewarded with a good planting season. St. Brigit of Kildare was an early Irish (5th C.) monastic and her relics are now in Portugal. There were apparently a lot of early saints named Brigid and their legends and lives have all gotten put together over time. 

February 1 was also ideally the date to begin plowing the fields in England, called Plough Monday, but it could be moved to an earlier or later Monday after Epiphany depending on the weather. The women went back to work earlier (of course), on January 7, Distaff Day, when spinning began again after the twelve days of Christmas holidays. Sometimes Plough Monday and Distaff Day fell on the same day.  
Folk getting up to all kinds of crazy for Plough Monday.

Conspicuously less merriment associated with Distaff Day. 

Candlemas (Feb. 2) is shorthand for the Feast of the Purification, which marks the 40th day after Christmas, when the Virgin Mary, a law-abiding Jewish mother, presented herself for ritual purification at the temple after giving birth to a son. (Giving birth to a girl baby required 80 days of waiting before purification. This has to do with taboos about bodily fluids leaving the body. A menstruating woman, for instance, could not enter the temple.) On this feast day, we remember when Mary presented herself, and met Anna and Simeon, and they recognized Christ as the Light of the World. Thus, the candles of Candle Mass. It became a traditional time to bless all the candles that were made over the long winter to be used in the coming year. Candle-making was a task that could be done in winter because the harvest was done and energy could be given to less essential tasks, like household repairs and handicrafts. Some people wait until this date, the very last gasp of Christmas celebrations, to take down the holiday decorations. 

In the USA, we have Groundhog Day on Feb. 2. The groundhog, a large hibernating rodent, is supposed to be lured from his hole in the ground. If he sees his shadow, spring is on the way. If not, then six more weeks of winter will be expected. (This year, no surprise to many, he did not see his shadow.) The tradition of observing hibernating animals, or by observing the weather of Feb. 1, to forecast the weather is common. In Europe, it was a beaver, wolf, or bear. I think it all comes from eager farmers wanting to know how soon they could plant. There's nothing worse than investing time and energy into planting and having a surprise freeze kill everything in one night. 

The Scandinavians had a seasonal calendar called a Primstav, or runic calendar. Basically, it is a flat wooden stick (something like a fancy yard stick) with notches and carved runes on two sides, one for winter, one for summer. Many cultures only divided the year into summer and winter. A primstav was a practical decoration for a farmstead and usually hung by the front door. Another translation of primstav is primspell.  Besides the blessing of candles at this time, Candlemas was the halfway point for the winter season and farmers checked their animal feed at this point. Early spring was often a time of great hunger if winter stores were used up too early.

Something interesting I read recently is that St. Valentine's Day, Feb. 14, would have fallen about two weeks earlier in the Julian calendar, Feb. 1. Before he was associated with romantic love, his feast day was associated with the early spring. This may have been the date of his actual martyrdom (he was a Christian priest in a time of persecution) or it may have been one of those situations where his veneration was placed on top of an already important date for the Romans, Februa.

Feb. 3 is St. Blaise's Day and again there is the theme of purification and candles. St. Blaise's story is that he was a physcian, then later a hermit and a bishop, who cured a child that had been choking on a fish bone. The custom on this day was to bless those with throat ailments or other illnesses. Part of the ritual is to hold two long crossed candles around the neck, or in blessing over the congregation. What could be a more appropriate prayer at the height of flu season than to ask God for healing?

Mamemaki is a Japanese ritual that is part of the spring holiday (Haru Matsuri), also marked on Feb. 3. This date is called Setsubun. I only know about this one because a family I am friends with celebrates it every year. They throw soybeans out the front door (or at a family member wearing a mask) and shout "Demons out! Luck in!" and slam the door on last year's bad luck and disease-bringing evil spirits.  

Detail, Winter Quarter Year Calendar
I noticed a giant glaring error on my winter calendar drawing just yesterday! I wrote in the Ember Days of Lent as MARCH 25, 27, and 28. The Lenten Ember Days fall on the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the first Sunday of Lent every year, so obviously it should be FEBRUARY 25, 27, and 28. I always get thrown off because February and March are numbered the same. Oops! Well, it's strange having a series of penitential days within the already penitential season of Lent, but the point of the ember days is the blessing of seasonal work and harvests. If you begin to plow on Plough Monday, then bless the fields after prayer and fasting on the ember days, you will be right on track for planting in March; one of the traditional days to plant potatoes was Good Friday.
February, Tres Riches Heures Duc du Berry
I've been spending my winter indoor work time writing letters, making summer plans, filling up the calendar for fall (in pencil), and of course, spring cleaning. I'm reading through a textbook on Western Civilization, trying to make academic study a daily habit. I'm enjoying it a lot, once I actually sit down and make time for it. The author proposes the idea of the "Greater West" instead of just Western Civilization; meaning, it includes the history of the middle eastern peoples. He argues that despite the schism between Europe and the Near East, these cultures have more in common than Arabia does with Japan or other far eastern regions. I think it's a neat solution to assertions of western civ being only the study of dead white male accomplishments. Fourteen chapters...shouldn't take long, right?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Jan. 22 {pretty, funny, happy, real]

1. Pretty: I love the floral postage stamps and floral prints of these Cath Kidston fold & mail stationery. Do you match your stamps to your envelopes? I just ordered some new stamps so I'd have a better variety to choose from. The local post office only ever seems to have U.S. Flags. It's fun to receive mail with a little more pizzazz, don't you think?
Letters & Cards ready for mailing
I had an idea I'd make bookmarks to send friends and family for their birthdays this year. They turned out pretty large. I'm going to tweak the process a little bit for the February birthdays.

January birthday friends
2. Funny: #ChipotleEveryDay it's not just a hashtag, it's reality. I live 17 miles from the nearest Chipotle. I place an online order once a week, pick it up, and put it in the fridge for my daily lunch/dinner. I love that their ingredients are completely gluten-free (other than flour tortillas). It's great to have this little convenience.
Mmm, guacamole.

Seriously, every day.
3. Happy: Happiness is a full fridge. I'm trying a new routine. On Mondays, after the kids leave for school, I order Chipotle online and drive down to Whole Foods for the grocery shopping. You can't beat the beautiful containers of cut fruit and veggies and so many gluten-free options. Then I swing by Chipotle for my rice/beans/meat order pickup and I'm done shopping for the week. 

A full fridge: It never lasts, but it's good while it lasted.

4. Real: The Bill. This grocery/Chipotle run was about $200 and most of it will last a week. This is not the cheapest option, but it's the more convenient option and keeps me from resorting to drive-thru or pizza as often. It's a busy season of life. Last night I made alfredo pasta with meatballs, tonight will be vegetable soup. Rarely do we sit at the table together to eat. Homework, rehearsals, swim lessons, etc. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

So Much Life

Well, I didn't intend to take that many days off blogging in between posts. Just so many things happening, I didn't know where to begin.

First off, I decided to take "Advance" to heart and started researching again exactly which classes I needed to finish off my social studies endorsement. I have a B.A. in History already, but not enough US history to make a good high school history teacher.

I need a year of U.S. history, one class in Pacific Northwest history (a state requirement to graudate high school, usually completed in 8th grade), one American government class (POLS 202) and unfortunately one class in macroeconomics (ECON 202). I figure I will get the poli sci/econ stuff (which will be more of a struggle as some math may be required) out of the way first.

I have applied for admission at the local community college, which offers all these classes, and will do one class per quarter. Then, after that, I apply to the Masters in Teaching program which will take two years and get me a secondary endorsement in history/social studies. So, I'm going back to school in a couple months!

And then, ten days after I applied for registration, I got a job offer out of the blue. Part-time, which is perfect, and maybe with benefits, even better. So, now suddenly, I'm going back to school and working part-time. Well, gee, "Advance" was the right word for 2015 after all!

How will it all work out? One day at a time. I started thinking about Lillian Moller Gilbreth (the real life "Cheaper by the Dozen" mother) again and how she managed it all. She had eleven children when she was widowed and a professional business to take over as well as her husband's speaking tour. While she had a flawed perspective on some things (eugenics) she was truly amazing in many ways. I'm spending a little time re-reading her book "As I Remember" and a comprehensive biography written about her, "Making Time: Lillian Moller Gilbreth -- a life beyond Cheaper by the Dozen."
Gilbreth Family
One of my favorite quotes from her children's retelling of their lives goes something like this: "Mother was afraid of storms and would hide in the closet terrified, but when father died she stopped being afraid. The worst had happened and nothing would frighten her again." That's a loose paraphrase. I identified with that a lot though. When children are depending on you alone, you realize that there isn't time for being silly or stupid or fearful. You lose a lot of your fears when you compare how small they are to the big things you've already survived.

So, Advance! And welcome to the challenges of 2015. 

In the mean time, I went down two rabbit trails of research. It's relaxing.

1. I read through the lineage of the modern Japanese imperial family and drew a family tree. The emperor and empress are probably the world's cutest elderly couple.
Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, 2015
As a long time fan of the British royal family, it is interesting to note the differences between them. The Japanese imperial family is much more confined and conservative--the women have a very peculiar formal court dress that is something in between modern and Victorian (why don't they wear traditional Japanese dress more often, I wonder?)--and very strict inheritance laws.

Imperial family at New Year's Day lectures.
There was a movement to allow girls to inherit a few years ago and then one of the emperor's grandsons finally had a son and so the issue was dropped. About fifty percent of the Japanese imperial family have no children, a few never married. Of those that have children, they are overwhelmingly girls. Very different than the European royals that almost always marry and have two or three children. I wonder how much is genetic and how much is self-restraint. After WW2, all Japanese nobility were disinherited and made commoners with the exception of the descendants of Emperor Taisho, the father of Hirohito (Emperor Showa), and all daughters of the emperor automatically become common once they marry (unless they marry a prince, who would have to be a cousin at this point, and unlikely, given the dearth of males in the family). I also learned that Japanese emperors and empresses are given new names after their death, in fact they have several names over a life time: a childhood name, an adult name, possibly a ruling name, a posthumous name.

2. I developed an interest in postage stamps--not particularly because of their collectible value, but rather as another way of sharing art and color with the world. I love the way Patrick at Edelweiss Post uses vintage stamps arranged by theme or color to make stationery sets. I am all eager now to see each new stamp the USPS releases, though the "forever" value makes them a little boring. I think collecting stamps of small value, the ten cent/five cent/two cent stamps, gives you more opportunities for artistic arrangement. Why? Just to add color and interest to a personal letter or greeting card.
Lillian Gilbreth on a US stamp.
I will have to be on the lookout for this one!
I've been trying to get into the habit of writing letters more often, especially to the friends and family who are rarely on facebook. It takes a knack to have a conversation at a slower pace and keep it from being ridiculous and redundant. My dad (out of state) likes to email, but it's fast, almost too fast. Once we've exchanged the news there's nothing to say for a week until there's new news. But when you write a letter, it's like the conversation just keeps going from week to week; there's a feeling of being able to take your time in what you want to say and not being perceived as rude for not answering in five minutes. (Do you do that in your instant messaging or texting also? Just delay the reply to slow down the conversation? I admit it, I do.)

In 2013 I made a big effort to send a lot of Christmas cards and inside I printed a short letter about the history of Christmas greetings and sending cards. I realized at that time that the card is the gift. There isn't a need for exchanging other gifts with friends at the holidays when the card is beautiful, well-made, and thoughtful.

 My virtual stamp collection of Washington State theme stamps. So far, I've managed to collect only the 4-cent Space Needle and 25-cent 1989 centenary stamps and a few tribal northwest coast Indian art stamps as well. Shocking to see how much postage has gone up in my lifetime! The 25-cent stamp was first class when I graduated from high school. This year, I believe it has increased to 49-cents.

Stamp collection and geneology...retro cool or middle aged? ;)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

January in progress

The general mood of January in the Pacific Northwest is Sleepy. On most days, the skies are over cast and gray. It's a rare treat to have a sunny cold winter day with bright blue skies. It's a good time for indoor projects, like scrapbooking and drawing.
Baby born in winter's sleep,
Snowflakes fall, snuggle deep.
(Baby Born, Anastasia Suen & Chih-Wei Chang,1999)
Typical overcast evening in January.
My favorite places in my weather app: two for family out of state, and four of the best places in Washington. Almost every place is cold and dreary right now. Supposedly, January 15, St. Hilary's Day, marks the end of the coldest days on average.
Not quite fifty, but several shades of gray.
The Christmas decorations have been taken down. I actually started early (for me) this year, on New Year's Eve. It felt like time to clear away the clutter, however cheerful and colorful it can be, and create clear spaces and a simpler view for the new year. I left the outdoor lights turned on until the twelfth day of Christmas (Jan. 6) and now we are just waiting on a clear dry day to take them off the fence. After this coming Sunday's celebration of the Baptism of Jesus (Jan. 11), five Sundays of Ordinary Time follow before we suddenly find ourselves in Lent.
Where we are in the Year
I'm working on a new drawing, possibly the first in a calendar series. One of the interesting traditions associated with New Year is First Footing. In Scotland, the first guest to set foot in your house in the new year brings the luck with him or her. We haven't had a true guest in the house since Christmas (my parents) and no visitors inside the house at all until Tuesday this week. I guess we aren't as social as traditional Scots. In the "old country," this first guest was a planned event and was greeted with a festive night of toasting to the new year. I can barely stay awake for midnight. I can't imagine starting a party at that hour. But I think that's the way it is with many celebrations like that, they really only happen for an individual once in a while, few people celebrate a tradition every year without fail. And that's perfectly okay.

JANUARY (in progress)
The girl on the left is based on a photo of my 11 year old daughter and the four bubbles are to feature four famous men of interest to me that have birthdays this month: Mozart, Robert Burns, A.A. Milne (well, I thought Pooh Bear, his creation, was more recognizable than Mr. Milne), and Martin Luther King Jr., in order of the year they were born. I should have added Ben Franklin, but realized too late that he is also a January man. [Have you ever thought about why famous men and women are honored on their birthdays but saints are honored on their death days? (Only three saints' birthdays are celebrated: Jesus, Mary, and St. John the Baptist.) There are lots of famous deaths of non-saints, of course, but when future generations come around to celebrate the life of that person, it is usually on the day of their birth, not the day of their death. I'm trying to think of examples that don't fit this pattern. I will have to come back to it.] The center drawing is a PNW take on the Epiphany, with the three wise kings coming upon a small house in the woods (Nazareth, WA?) and Mt. Pilchuck and the Cascade Range behind. I want to tie all these elements together with some quotes around the drawing and then frame it up in a square border. 

Ongoing Project: a scrapbook of ideas and pictures and journaling for 2015. I had fun picking out a new binder, paper and creating a cover. This is where I'm going to store all the little bits of memorabilia over the year. Things that don't belong in our family photo album, or in the very practical Household Hub Notebook, will go here. I had kind of given up on reading magazines because I just ran out of time to look at them, but now I'm excited to pick out a few and clip and glue in my favorite images and short articles.

My 2015 Yearbook ala By Sun and Candlelight
 The Household Hub Notebook was set up originally by my professional organizer friend Monika and I've kept it up for five years now. I go through it maybe three times a year. In here I put things like business cards, class schedules, doctor's referrals, warranties, any kind of necessary paper that I need to hold onto for a while. I don't put things in here like bank statements or utility statements, those go into my long-term file box until they can be purged (every 7 years).

At my desk.
The carnations and tulips are still looking fine. I switched out the nativity scene for a Stewart plaid serviette (that's fancy-speak for paper napkin).
If it's not Scottish, it's...ahem.
Scottish Heritage Days
Hogmanay - Jan. 1
Burns Night - Jan. 25

In a year, I usually manage to do something fun for one of these days, never all of them, lest you think I am an over achiever. I've still never been to a Burns Night supper, but some day I will, when I don't have to worry about finding babysitting and driving an hour or more to the closest event. Well, there is January, so far! Opera next week and a museum visit, I hope.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


The Last Day of Christmas
To celebrate the twelfth day of Christmas I bought fresh flowers, red mini carnations and parrot tulips. Carnations are January's birth flower. I was hoping to find full sized carnations for a drawing study but my local grocery store florist didn't have any.  

We also blessed our homed with blessed chalk by writing "20+C+M+B+15" on the door frame, as seen here in this list of epiphany prayers put together by my friend Mrs. Webb a few years ago. 

Blessed Chalk and a selection of prayers kept in a ziploc bag in my kitchen drawer.
I'm working on a new drawing with the theme of January, which might turn into a calendar page. 

I went from this to a piece of watercolor paper. I should finish it today and will share it later.
I also drew a little full year version of a calendar wheel but I'm not sure I love it. It feels like it needs a little tweaking yet.

I think it needs a darker border or something to finish it off. Not sure still. 

Taped to the wall for a new perspective and further thought.
One of my most important resolutions for 2015 is
"Draw More, Write More." 

Today I'm planning to put together a more organized daily journal notebook (inspired by Dawn at By Sun and Candlelight) to keep my ideas in one place. I have lots of random spiral notebooks that I hate to throw away since I've written good things I them, but I can never find anything again without spending a lot of time searching through every page. I want to be more deliberate and more organized about my writing and drawing this year, this seems like a good way to do it.