Thursday, November 18, 2021

From Halloween to Hallowtide: A Look Back

I know that with Thanksgiving approaching, Hallowtide is now just a fading image in our rearview mirrors, but before all the jack-o-lanterns turn completely into humus, I wanted to share a little about how our Hallowtide traditions have changed over the past decade.  Suffice to say that how we celebrate today is a long ways from how we started.

I still remember, with a bit (okay, a lot) of nostalgic longing, the first Hallowtide that I celebrated with my children.  After years of infertility, being able to finally celebrate with my own child was a big deal to me. That was in 2010, and I didn't even know then that Hallowtide was a thing; it was just Halloween to me, so how we celebrated was very secular, i.e., candy and costumes.  And even though we didn't go anywhere on Halloween, I still remember the joy I found in gathering up miscellaneous items around the house and making my son's first-ever costume and snapping a photo of him. My husband took delight in adding the sign to complete the outfit.

The first costume for my first kid, Halloween 2010.  Pretty scary, eh?

It was great fun putting together a costume for my baby in 2010, but little did I know then that a year later, I'd have TWO little ones to dress up.  This was a bit more challenging, but with a little creativity and a lot of duct tape (used only on the costume, I promise!), I came up with costumes inspired by two free plastic helmets that they got at the local fire truck parade the month before.  It was very cute and not a bit liturgical.

Two little firefighters, Halloween 2011.

What I thought was challenging in 2011 became almost impossible in 2012.  This was the year I became a stay-at-home mother, and my two boys were now very mobile, very strong-willed, very exhausting toddlers. I was in full-on survival mode, hence I skipped the costumes completely and just went for the Halloween t-shirt. I think I threw some chocolate candy in a bowl for them, based upon their faces in this photo.  That year is kind of a blur, and the last thing on my mind was trying to teach my kids about saints, or feast days, or anything other than basic commands like "sit" and "stop" and "don't touch".

"I love my Mummy" and
I'm coming for her. Halloween 2012.

By the time Halloween of 2013 rolled around, I was starting to find my groove as a stay-at-home mother, as evidenced by the fact that not only were my boys back in costumes, but I also somehow managed to bake and decorate two kinds of sugar cookies for the holiday.  I'm not sure what came over me. Of course, there wasn't a saint among them, and my boys remained holy terrors.

There wasn't anything much scarier than when these two
got that look on their faces.  Halloween 2013.

Two years into being a stay-at-home mother, I realized that it was a very rewarding gig, but I really didn't know what I was doing. My children were feral, and my attempts at trying to instill any sense of virtue in them were falling flat. So, I did what any desperate mother would do; I searched for an online community that might offer some kind of moral support and helpful advice. That was back when blogging was still popular so, I hopped on the bandwagon. I began reading Catholic blogs (and started this one) and that changed EVERYTHING. Within a few months, I had found a network of mothers trying to raise their children in the Catholic faith. Reading those blogs, I was intrigued by their attempts to bring the faith into every facet of their family life, including how they were celebrating holidays and liturgical seasons.  I found myself wondering if I should do the same. 

At first, I was hesitant.  Although dressing kids up like saints seemed like a fun and catechetical thing to do, I worried about depriving my children of the secular version of Halloween, so I tried to give them both.  

Secular costumes for trick-or-treating, Halloween 2014

Halloween AND Hallowtide cookies, 2014

Obligatory pumpkin carving, 2014.

Attending our first
All Saints Day party, 2014.

The first saint costumes I ever made, 2014 
(St. John Bosco & St. John the Baptist)

Halloween 2015 wasn't much different than 2014.  I was still doing two sets of costumes, still trying to take the kids trick-or-treating, and still trying to keep a foot in both the secular world and liturgical world.  It was a lot of work, but I thought it was necessary in order to keep my kids both Catholic and "normal".  Only later did I come to realize that being both a devout Catholic and normal in the eyes of society may be mutually exclusive!

Hallowtide 2015
(St. Joseph & St. John Bosco)

Halloween 2015
(A pirate & his black cat)

And then Dominic joined our family in 2016, and I was back in survival mode with a 2-month old and two still-feral 5 and 6 year old boys.  Needless to say, something had to go, and that was trick-or-treating.   My husband and I were done loading kids into car seats, driving around in the cold rain after dark, and waiting in traffic jams and candy lines for sweet treats just so our kids could have the wonderful experience of greedily hoarding candy and scarfing down too much sugar, which took feral to a whole other level. Instead, I replaced it all with buckets of candy that I bought (and moderated) and called it all good.  It was one of the best parenting decisions we ever made.  It would be another year, however, before it finally dawned on me that if I didn't dress them up in secular costumes, they would still turn out okay.

Let's hear an Amen for Halloween-themed
sleepers that just zip up!  Halloween 2016

This little guy insisted that it wasn't Halloween
 unless he got to dress up like a cat again.  Halloween 2016

And if brother dresses up, he wants
 to, also.  Halloween 2016. (Wildlife ranger)

For Halloween 2017, we continued with the tradition of carving pumpkins and eating candy (purchased by Mom), but the confidence I gained from ditching trick-or-treating the year before gave me the courage to finally do away with secular costumes completely. Instead, I encouraged the boys to put their thoughts and efforts into which saint they would like to represent for All Hallows' (Saints) Day. I thought I might be in for a fight, but once I assured Joah that I would never throw away his cat costume (and I haven't), and that he could pick a saint who loved animals as much as he does, he was all for it.  It also helped that I promised them that I would make chocolate chip "pumpkin pancakes" for supper, and while I didn't realize it at the time, a new Halloween supper tradition began.

Halloween 2017.

Pumpkin pancakes for supper, Halloween 2017

Mom-approved candy, Halloween 2017.

St. Francis of Assisi, Hallowtide 2017

St. George, Hallowtide 2017

A (very mobile) St. Dominic, Hallowtide 2017

We mostly repeated the process in 2018, but the boys kept upping their game with the saint costumes. With the time I saved in not making secular costumes, I was able to put more time into helping them with their saint costumes.  John really wanted to be "a saint with a beard", so I made a beard for Moses, and sewed a tunic for St. Francis of Assisi.  

Halloween 2018

Halloween 2018

Moses, St. George &
St. Francis of Assisi.  Hallowtide 2018

By the time 2019 rolled around, liturgical living had become for us a way of life and feast days, and saint stories, and solemnity celebrations were being incorporated into our entire year.  And although we still carved pumpkins and ate candy on Halloween, the focus of this holiday for my family had turned completely around from where it had been five years previous.  It was in 2019 that I first started referring to "Hallowtide," and our entire family was enjoying the new way that we were celebrating so much, that we wanted to share it with others.  So, that year, our entire family dressed as saints.  We all wore our costumes to Mass on All Saints' Day, and after Mass, we invited everyone to our home for an All Saints' Day party.  It was great fun, and my kids and our friends still talk about it today.  

This little guy, however, was missing his cat costume,
 so we dug it out for him for old time's sake.  Hallowtide 2019.

The family that wears saint costumes
together, stays together.  Hallowtide 2019.

Making soul cakes for the
 party, Hallowtide 2019

A feast of saint-themed snacks
for our guests. Hallowtide 2019

And then, in 2020, the world changed, and the idea of hosting a party in our home was out-of-the question.  It was this year, more than any other, that I was so thankful for the liturgical living traditions that we'd already established in our family.  It was also in 2020 that I realized that we had not yet fully incorporated the last piece, perhaps most important part, of the Hallowtide puzzle into our lives. Pandemic deaths seemed to be all around us now, making us more fully aware of the significance of All Souls' Day.  And so, it was in 2020 that we added cemetery visits on All Souls' Day to our Hallowtide traditions.  On that day, we visited five cemeteries. I asked the kids to choose a headstone in each one, make a chalk rubbing of the stone, and record the name of the person who it belonged to.  We said a decade of the rosary at each of the five cemeteries, then came home and added the names we'd recorded to our our Poor Souls candle, which we lit each evening when we said our family rosary (another tradition we started in 2020).  It was a lovely and meaningful end to our Hallowtide, and one that we repeated again this year.  

Hallowtide 2020.  This time, we placed our jack-o-lanterns
on the graves of our 3 babies, weaving many of our Hallowtide traditions together.

St. Isaac Jogues, Hallowtide 2020

St. Joseph, Hallowtide 2020

St. John Bosco, Hallowtide 2020

All Souls' Day at the cemetery. Hallowtide 2020.

Which brings us to now, and the recent end of another Hallowtide.  How much my children have grown in these years!  How much I have grown! I am much different than the mother I was ten years ago, when I blindly followed the mainstream, doing things without knowing the reason for doing them.  I will forever be grateful for the blogs of 2014 (especially Catholic All Year ) that led me down this path, and for the many mothers out there who are also doing the same in their families.  It is primarily through their inspiration and example that I am learning how to live the faith with my children in my own home.

Hallowtide 2016.

There once was a time when I worried that we were depriving our children of Halloween. Now, I believe that they have something even better. They have Hallowtide. 

Hallowtide 2021

Hallowtide 2021

Hallowtide 2021

Hallowtide 2021
St. Christopher, St. Roch, & St. Luke

Saturday, October 16, 2021

20 Years: A Marriage Worth Fighting For

Twenty years ago this week, we became a family.

And what a long twenty years it has been.

I do not say that to dissuade anyone from the vocation of marriage.  Marriage is beautiful and truly the best thing that ever happened to me. I prayed for it for years before meeting my husband.  I prayed for God to lead me to just the right man, the one meant for me.  He answered those prayers, and His grace has sustained us through these two decades.  But these twenty years, they have been long, and difficult, and our marriage has barely survived some of it.

It all started well enough.  We were both in our early 30s, both never married, both well-educated, financially secure, and more importantly, kind, considerate and responsible young adults.  We both loved birdwatching, camping, hiking, and music. We loved good conversation about a range of topics and would talk for hours.  We loved creative writing, and composed hundreds of poetic, romantic emails to one another that greeted us each morning as we started and ended our days in different time zones, half-a-world apart.  We loved to travel, and every opportunity to be together was a great adventure, either in the Australian bush, or in the forests of Appalachia.  We took naps on the beach, and hikes in the snow, and eight months after we met, he proposed.  I couldn’t wait to say yes.

We thought our families would be happy for us, but the news was met with lukewarm acceptance. Nonetheless, we moved forward with our plans.  We met with my parish priest, who took an immediate liking to my future husband.  We set the date.  October 13, six months to the day that he’d proposed to me. Lucky 13, we always said.

Yet, a cloud hung over our plans.  My father would not bless our marriage.  He was not pleased that I was planning to marry a non-Christian.  My husband’s father, in turn, was not happy that I was a Catholic.  Words were said, but hearts would not change. We dug in our heels, more determined than ever to get married and show our parents how wrong they were.  My father walked me down the aisle with a long face, and my husband’s parents struggled to smile.  In hindsight, I can understand why.

We were unequally yoked, he and I, and the struggles began almost immediately.  Neither of us had a frame of reference of what a healthy, Christian marriage looked like.  Soon after the honeymoon, the life changes started coming hard and fast.  First, a move to a new state, new jobs for both of us, and then, infertility.  Years and years of infertility, losing our first baby in miscarriage, and lies.  Lots and lots of little lies.  Marriage was rapidly becoming my worst nightmare. 

Yet, somewhere in there, God poured His grace.  Never one to miss Mass, I went every Sunday and holy day and my non-Christian husband went with me, every time.  It was the only thing my father had asked of him before we married.  “Promise me you’ll go to church with her,” he’d said, and my husband promised, and he did.  Three years into our marriage, he joined the Catholic Church.  One year after that, we were at Retrouvaille, seeking help.  The closer you get to Jesus, the harder Satan comes after you, and little did we know then just how much he wanted to destroy what we were trying to build. 

Things did not get better.  They got harder.  I realize now, years later, that I was making them harder.  Always seeking perfection in myself and in him, I was seldom satisfied.   Now of the same faith, we still practiced it only minimally together outside of going to Mass.  And although we could still find joy in our common hobbies and travels together, the day-to-day mundane tasks were tearing our relationship apart.  I was convinced that having children together would bring us closer, but when the children finally came after a tumultuous nine years, the strain of parenting children with challenges added a whole new layer of burden to our already tenuous marriage.  Each of us dealt with it in our own way, and rather than leaning on one another, we instead used one another as a dumping ground for each other’s brokenness and frustrations.  Trust eroded, and Satan whispered in our ears.

It was in desperation that I began saying a daily rosary for our marriage, with the specific intention that I would grow in humility.  I had rarely prayed the rosary before that.  For months after I began, nothing improved.  I went to confession more frequently, as did he, but still, little changed.  I kept it up.  Three months later, I asked him to join me in a daily rosary, and he agreed, but only if we included the kids as well.  So, we did, and life got even harder.  The kids hated saying the rosary and every evening, we faced an exhausting, uphill battle when we’d try to gather them on the sofa.  So many of our rosaries were said badly, and it often took an hour to complete one, if we completed it at all.  There was no doubt in my mind that something or Someone was doing all he could to break us from this most powerful devotion.

But although we had many setbacks, we did not stop.  And while I cannot put my finger on the moment when everything changed, I can assure you that things did change.  This month, on October 7, we celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, and my family, joined by our parish priest, sat around the kitchen table and said a most beautiful rosary together with prayerful intentions.  Our children now look forward to snuggles on the sofa while we pray the rosary together, and my husband leads them with enthusiasm.  

Slowly, our marriage is healing.  We take walks together. We have loving conversations again. We try to do small things for one another during the day without complaint.  I try to be more accepting, less anxious, and search for humility when I want to be judgmental.  This past week, he gave me a new pair of binoculars for an anniversary gift because mine have been broken for years, and he said his missed his “birding buddy.”  Last Sunday, we went on a 24 hour get-away, just the two of us, and he made all the reservations.  For the first time in a very long time, we are back where we started, twenty years ago.  We are falling in love.  

Satan is far from finished with us, we know.  Our old wounds routinely get re-opened, and it is still too easy for us to succumb to our lower nature and the temptation to run away to a place where we can lick our own wounds. Pride still looms large over our relationship and colors our conversations on a daily basis.  Yet, despite that, we are doing one thing differently.  Now, we hold hands with one hand and keep a rosary in the other, and are fighting together for a marriage worth saving.

In five more years, we will be celebrating, Lord willing, our Silver Jubilee, and I am already planning it.  We will stand at the same altar with the same priest and renew our vows.  Our sons will stand beside their father as his best men, and witness their parents publicly profess their love and commitment for one another.  It will be much like it was the first time, only much different in a most important way.  This second time, we will receive the Eucharist together at a matrimonial Mass offered just for us, and our union will be sacramental and holy and the way it should have been to start with.  I might even ask my father to walk me down the aisle again, and should he agree, I have no doubt that this time, he will be smiling. 

As a father has compassion on his children, 

so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him. – Psalm 103

Thursday, September 23, 2021

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

 “Mom?”   “I don’t feel so well.”  

And so it began.  The end of our summer vacation before it even started.  Or shall I say, the end of MY summer vacation.  The one I’d spent a week prepping food for and three days washing clothes and packing suitcases for.  The one I’d planned so well, jockeying around dental appointments, co-op meetings, therapy sessions, and various other activities just so that we could find 5 days in a row on the calendar of free time.  The one that I’d researched and made phone calls for in order to secure tickets at a reasonable price.  The one I’d been dreaming about for months as I dug potatoes in the hot sun, threw laundry into the washer, washed another sink full of dishes, and cooked another meal.  We hadn't taken an extended family vacation since June 2019, and I was beyond ready to get away. Just a few more weeks, I’d say.  Then, a few more days.  Then, a few more hours, before I could escape it all and just go have fun with my family.   Five days of me and the boys and my husband getting away from the reality of chores and obligations and appointments and just having an enjoyable time with each other.  I couldn’t wait.

It’s just car sickness, I told myself, as I tried to clean the vomit off my little one’s carseat with an old napkin and wiped off his clothes while keeping one eye on the vehicles whizzing by us.  But when it happened again an hour after we’d stopped traveling, and I felt his forehead getting warmer and warmer to the touch, I knew it wasn’t carsickness.  We made him comfortable in the motel room and for the remainder of the trip, that’s where he and I stayed, while the rest of the family enjoyed the summer vacation that I had planned.

My husband, being the good sport that he is, offered to take a turn staying with our sick child in the room, so that I could go out and have some fun, too, but I declined.  As much as I would have enjoyed riding the log flume and eating ice-cream with my older boys, a bigger part of me felt like I needed to be with my sick child.  So, I encouraged them to go on and have a wonderful time and assured him that I and the little one would be just fine.  And although I had initially expressed bitterness at the circumstances (“WHY DID THIS HAVE TO HAPPEN NOW??”, I had exclaimed the night before), once I accepted that I had a child who needed me more than I needed a vacation, my soul finally began to feel peace again.  It was as if I could hear God saying, “Okay, pass this test,” and, I think I did pass it, even if I didn’t get an A+.

Which has gotten me to thinking a lot about all the little tests that come with being a mother.   If nothing else, motherhood has been the most effective means God has found in teaching me just how much I need to grow in humility although, marriage is a close second.  Both involve relationships that cannot be navigated well without a continual outpouring of grace from Our Lord, of that I am sure.  I could almost feel the grace come into my soul in the form of acceptance of the circumstances that had caused my vacation plans to unravel.  It’s as if, once I did the work of having a more humble heart, God gave me the ability to accept what I could not control, and my bitterness and disappointment just melted away. Acceptance must certainly be one of the many gifts of humility, and it is a feeling that is still somewhat foreign to me.

It has been (and probably always will be) my greatest challenge to humble myself enough to be worthy of this gift of acceptance.  I struggle to see whatever unfolds before me as part of God’s divine plan. Instead, I want to “fix” every situation, every person, and make things “better”.  Only, too often, my desire for control and fixing makes things far from better. It often looks like me criticizing my husband for not hanging up his shirts, instead of thanking him for bringing in the laundry.  It looks like me yelling at my kid for spending 2 hours doodling on his homework, instead of seeing him as a person who is far more creative than I will ever be.  Sometimes it looks like me wanting to find a part-time job so that I can be regarded as "successful", instead taking pleasure in the success of being able to prepare healthy meals for my family with fresh food from my garden and keeping a tidy home where they feel comfortable. 

A few hours before it was time to head home from our vacation, my little one was feeling better, and asking for potato chips.  When he figured out that he’d missed all the planned vacation fun because he’d been so sick, he was disappointed, and his little lip began to quiver and his eyes fill with tears.  I hugged him and assured him that he would get another chance.

And he will.  And so will I.  And perhaps the next attempt at taking a family vacation won’t go as planned either.  Or maybe it will.  Either way, I know that if I have a humble heart, trusting that God always works all things for our good, that He will again give me that gift of acceptance.  In the meantime, I guess He just needed to remind me that sometimes, a vacation is less about escaping my reality and more about finding it.


We finally made it!