Using up the Matzo Saturday, Apr 3 2010 

We recently had a Seder supper and had a box of Matzo left over.  I love to eat Matzo with peanut butter or just butter.  But since I am trying to shed a few pounds before James’ wedding, I am not doing so.  But what to do with the leftovers?  I found this wonderful recipe for Matzo Toffee.   The blogger calls it Matzo Crack because it is addictive.   Giving away the toffee will be easier than than just giving away the plain matzos.  It is absolutely delicious.  

I was thinking this is an appropriate candy to make on this Holy Saturday when we are anticipating the sweetness of the Resurrection after having recalled the Last Supper and then the Passion of Our Lord.  The matzo is so simple, being made of only wheat and water, and yet it has many connotations to the Jewish people.  I am borrowing from this article to show just a bit of its meaning for them:

Matzo means “unleavened bread” in Hebrew. Matzo is both the symbol of affliction and slavery, the unleavened bread which the Hebrews ate as slaves in Egypt, and matzo is also a symbol of physical and political freedom which the Hebrews attained after leaving Egypt. Its place in the story of Passover or Pesach also makes it symbolize the transition from the bitterness of slavery in Egypt to the sweetness of physical and political freedom after leaving Egypt. Matzo also symbolizes the nearness of G-d to the Hebrews, for as the Hebrews were preparing to leave Egypt and only had time to bake unleavened bread, G-d was near to them, ready to guide them in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Finally, the simple ingredients of matzo – water and flour – as well as the flatness of the unleavened bread as opposed to the puffiness of leavened bread, symbolizes “poor man’s bread” as well as “humility” and “humbleness”, as opposed to the puffiness of one’s ego that characterizes a wealthy person as symbolized by leavened bread.

Many things and people in the Old Testament pre-figured what was to come in the history of our salvation.  The manna in the desert, as well as the unleavened bread, was a pre-figuring of our Holy Eucharist in which God has remained for all time.  This holy season of the Triduum has not come without the austerity of the 40 days of Lent preceding (prefigured by the time of the Jews in the desert).   Today is a time of preparation for the great feast of Easter–it is the day when we contemplate Christ in the tomb.  But we know the sweetness of His Resurrection is to come.  We symbolize that by putting aside the fasting of Lent and once again enjoying those things which we have denied ourselves (like chocolate, for instance!)

This blog is called “musings” for a reason.  One thought (or recipe) often leads to other musings and that is how you can have a recipe and a short lesson in one post.

Have a very blessed and Happy Easter.


On tradition Monday, Mar 29 2010 

As our society becomes ever more utilitarian and traditions fail to be passed from one generation to the next, I tend to cling more and more to those things which give texture to daily life and which mark the days in special ways.   Perhaps that is why one of my all-time favorite movies is Fiddler on the Roof. Tevye clings to tradition while his children one by one set it aside and embrace new ways.  He is bewildered at it all, but in the end, he is powerless to do anything about it.  I feel his angst at seeing what he holds dear put aside by the next generation.  We do not know if the children put aside the religious practices of their parents or if, in their new “mixed marriages” with gentiles, communists and free thinkers, they somehow manage to practice their religious traditions.  I kind of doubt it.

I feel blessed that our children like family traditions and are passing them on to their children,  even though they entail planning and effort, as well as cleanup when finished.  The scene in Fiddler where the family gathers around the table is for me the most poignant of the whole film.  I think that is because so many of our family traditions center around sharing food, laughter and conversation around the table.  Looking over thousands of family slides, pictures and movies,  we have noted that they are overwhelmingly focused around the table. And many of them have not only family, but friends who have been welcomed into the family circle and who have enriched the celebrations.

When our daughter got married, she wanted a large table that would accommodate her husband’s and her own family at one time.  Obviously she embraced the notion that food was to be shared with lots of people.  That gives me a lot of comfort, because somehow, she “got the memo” and has made it her own.

Yesterday we celebrated the Seder.  We are not Jewish, but our religious roots are certainly in Judaism, and for the last 20 or so years, we have been doing a Seder and introducing our Catholic friends to the tradition.  If one listens carefully, he recognizes in the Mass many of the prayers he hears in the Seder which is not at all surprising, because Jesus was a Jew who celebrated Passover and was at such a meal on the night before He died.

I have heard more than once that it just isn’t worth all the effort it takes to do these things, but I would question what could be more important.  At the end of our lives, are we going to remember the special things we did as families, or are we going to remember the countless television programs we watched or the hours we spent alone wasting time?  I don’t deny the work involved–but again, it brings so much satisfaction.  Everybody can work together to make these gatherings special.  We bring out the china, the silver and the glasses, all which have to be hand-washed.  Even the youngest children can help set the table and when everybody participates, the work is a joy.   Many valuable unspoken lessons are learned in the process.  When so much effort is put into the preparation,  food and the table-setting,  it says “this is important.”

I know our children value the tradition because two y ears ago I announced that I was retiring from doing the Seder dinners.  Their response? They bought me a beautiful Seder plate, no strings attached.  But what was I to do with it but host a Seder?  I am glad we did and in the process, we got to know another wonderful family.

In  addition, we enjoyed the extraordinary culinary talents of our guests.  Who could resist a dessert like this?  It was obviously lovingly made with care and attention to detail.  We won’t soon forget it.

Our daughter has moved to another city and I was thrilled to hear that she took our Seder tradition with her.  She introduced a whole new group of people to it, made the programs, set the table and more important, I know the tradition is safe for yet another generation!

It is a joy to see our children develop their own traditions while at the same time seeing that they value traditions from home.  Those traditions give all of us a sense of who we are in ways that material things can’t.  They keep us connected with one another and they all go toward creating those memories which we all cherish.  The mother of my sister-in-law always says it is important to create memories because in our later years, that may be all we have.  Do we want them to be richly textured and happy?  If so, we have to create them while we are able and while our children’s hearts are receptive.

Being a Mom Sunday, Nov 15 2009 

Being a mom is a source of many blessings.  It takes a lot of hard work for many years, and then when the kids are all grown you think you can now focus on other things.  I am not there yet, and frankly, don’t know if I ever will be.  Don’t get me wrong–my kids are great and don’t cause me any problems.  I bask in the knowledge that they are all practicing Catholics; that they are living honorable lives; that they are responsible; etc.  They are a constant source of joy in my life.

But the worries don’t stop when they grow up.  Larry tells me to pray more and not worry, because worrying doesn’t change anything.  I know he is right, but I can’t seem to turn down the worry button.  For instance…

Mike is in Europe for the semester.  He has had a bug that has had him coughing and feeling slightly off for about a month.  He has traveled, studied, written papers and gotten by.  But he just hasn’t been up to par.  I might as well be a million miles away because I can’t see him for myself and assess his problem. 

His class took its final trip last week to northern Italy.  While in Florence, his cough got the better of him and he landed in an Italian hospital.  His experiences there make me more convinced than ever that socialized medicine is not the way to go.   After putting him in an unheated waiting area and in line behind a bunch of other sick people, they wanted to keep him in for a week!  He has  a lung infection which the Italian doctor called “pulmonaris” and which the American doctor being consulted thinks is “pulmonitis.”  His treatment is two injections of high-powered antibiotics daily for the next 5 days, as well as a cortisone injection they gave him for the pain.  He left the hospital with a bag full of hypodermic needles, medicine and something for the cough.  Then he was put on a train by his professor back to Rome to recover and will not finish the trip with his class.  Now back in Rome, they have to bring in an Italian doctor twice a day to administer the antibiotics!

Think I’m sleeping peacefully?  Not.  But today, I spoke with him and he sounds good.  That is a consolation, but being Mom, I would really rather SEE him and assess how he is doing for myself.  Since that isn’t possible, I can only pray–try to turn off the worry button and trust that he will be OK.  As you finish reading this, would you please offer a prayer for his recovery?  Thanks.

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad…and Thanks Wednesday, May 13 2009 

My wonderful parents were married on this day in 1939–70 years ago.  My Dad died in 2000 and my Mom died two years ago come July.   They were wonderful parents and it is my prayer that they are celebrating their 70 years in Heaven.  I continue to pray for them and ask that their souls rest in peace.

luis and Aggie

Their gift to us today was the sale of the house they bought when Dad retired in 1973.  It has been on the market for about 1 1/2 years, and today it sold.  Perhaps Mom and Dad decided to wait till today to let go of their last earthly dwelling.

This was one of their hothouse plants which I brought home after Mom died.  I never even knew it was a bloomer.  But it started blooming on Dad’s birthday, May 3 and continues today.  Another little kiss from my wonderful parents.

Mama's hothouse plant 2

Mike is 19 Sunday, Mar 22 2009 

mike-leaving-after-spring-break2Today our “baby” is 19 years old. 


I was one of those “older” moms who was told that because of my age, I should have amnio “just in case.”  The implication was that if my baby was “defective” I could abort it.  Of course, I refused.  And we have been blessed to have a child at home well into our 50s. 

Mike has been a joy in our lives beyond measure.   He kept us hopping the whole time he was home, not being a quiet pensive child.  We love his energy, which though sometimes exhausting, keeps us engaged.  And we love the fact that even when we have had to correct him, Mike comes back with affection and love.  He doesn’t hold grudges and he gets over things quickly like his maternal grandfather.

Now that Mike is in college, our house is quiet and he is missed.  We love it when he comes home and brings his friends, and we look forward to summer when he returns.   I will miss being able to provide a meal of his choice today.

Indeed, “Children are a gift of the Lord.”  God grant him many happy years.

Celebrating St. Patrick Tuesday, Mar 17 2009 

St. Patrick’s Day has been a tough one for me for the last 30 years.  Thirty years ago our precious Erin Patricia was born on this feast day, and 12 days later she died.  About 20 years ago, I decided that I needed to do something positive on the feast day and stop spending it crying.  Our family is not Irish and corned beef was not part of our culture.  But I decided to introduce it into our annual menu and it was an instant hit.  So now, we eat an “American-Irish” dinner and pray St. Patrick’s Breastplate prayer, and I can pretty much get through the day smiling and giving thanks for the precious life of Erin Patricia.

We have grandchildren who are now involved in Irish dance because my husband wanted us to provide this for them.  He is so dedicated to the mission of getting the girls to dance and outfitting them as needed.  It is a joy to see them develop poise and skill as they learn the steps and perform on stage with big smiles on their faces.  Saturday was our annual St. Paddy’s Day parade.  Here are a few pictures before they headed out.



Irish boing-boing hair


Our oldest granddaughter, Lucy, was a gift to us on the 20th anniversary of the death of our Erin.  God is good.  He always provides.

So I wear a bit of green on this day, eat corned beef, and praise God for the life of Erin.

Luis Acuna Gastellum R.I.P. Saturday, Mar 14 2009 

I have decided to re-post this every year on Dad’s anniversary.  Today marks the 12th anniversary of his passing.


Today marks the 9th anniversary of the death of my wonderful Dad.  Dad was born in Tubac, Arizona, into a ranching family.  His father, Grandpa Santiago, had migrated north from Alamos, Mexico, and homesteaded in the valley.  Grandpa Santiago taught his children the value of an education and of the need to learn English, and my Dad took the lessons to heart.

He was the only one of the seven children who went to college and then left the Southern Arizona area for work.  Before anybody had ever heard of government quotas or affirmative action, he was a hispanic who achieved based on his own hard work, and he rose up in the ranks of the National Park Service.  He served as the United States representative on a major expedition to Antarctica conducted by the Chilean Navy, and when he returned after five months on the ice-cutter ship, he was in high demand as a speaker all over the United States.


After Dad retired, he was invited to write his memoirs for the Journal of Arizona History, and he did so. His story, Memories of My Youth at Tubac, From the Old Homestead to Adulthood, was published by the Arizona Historical Society in 1995.  Then, in 2004,  he and my Mom were featured in  Beloved Land: An Oral History of Mexican Americans in Southern Arizona.

Dad was a pillar of the local Catholic Church, a fourth-degree Knight of Columbus, and an active volunteer in the St. Vincent de Paul Society.  He spread cheer and Christian charity wherever he went, and he mentored countless people during his active life.

In addition to people outside the family, he mentored his own seven children.  He taught us to love God.  He taught us about the value of family.  He taught us the value of hard work and perseverance.  He taught us to get an education and to aim high.   By his own example, he taught us what it means to give of yourself and to love without counting the cost.  He bore sorrow with manly dignity, and in the end, he taught us how to die.  He chose to die at home, and most of his children were privileged to be at his side when he crossed over into eternal life.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him.

Stations of the Cross Thursday, Mar 12 2009 

Do you ever wonder what the history is behind the Stations of the Cross?  I just read this article at the Catholic News Agency  and found it very informative.

.- The Stations of the Cross in the form most American Catholics know best are of comparatively recent vintage in Church terms, dating back to the year the U.S. Constitution was ratified. However, their history goes back well before that, to the days when pilgrims were first openly able to go to Jerusalem and walk in the footsteps of Jesus on Good Friday.

The emperor Constantine permitted Christians to legally worship in the Roman Empire in 313 after 250 years of persecution. In 335, he erected the Church of the Holy Sepulcher at the site where Jesus’ tomb was believed to have been.

Processions of pilgrims to the church, especially during Holy Week, began soon after its completion.

A woman named Egeria, a pilgrim from France, described one such pilgrimage which took place in the fourth century. The bishop of Jerusalem and about 200 pilgrims began “at the first cockcrow” at the site of Jesus’ agony on Holy Thursday night. They said a prayer, sung a hymn, and heard a Gospel passage, then went to the garden of Gethsemane and repeated the procedure.

They continued to Jerusalem itself, “reaching the (city) gate about the time when one man begins to recognize another, and thence right on through the midst of the city. All, to a man, both great and small, rich and poor, all are ready there, for on that special day not a soul withdraws from the vigils until morning,” Egeria wrote.

Pilgrimages eventually took a fixed route from the ruins of the Fortress Antonia, where Pilate had his judgment hall, to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. That route through Jerusalem’s Old City gained acceptance as the way Jesus went to his death and remains unchanged today. It is known as the Via Dolorosa, Latin for the “Sorrowful Way.”

Stops developed on the way to note specific events on the road to Calvary. In many cases, the pilgrims could only guess where some incidents took place because Jerusalem had been almost completely destroyed by Roman armies in 70 A.D.

The pilgrims brought back oil from the lamps that burned around Jesus’ tomb and relics from the holy places, and sometimes tried to recreate in Europe what they had seen in the Holy Land. The Moslem conquest of Palestine in the seventh century made such shrines more significant, since it made travel to the Holy Land dangerous.

Devotions to the Way of the Cross began in earnest after 1342, when the Franciscan friars were given custody of the holy sites in the Holy Land. The Franciscans have been closely identified with the devotion ever since; for years, Church regulations required a set of the stations to be blessed by a Franciscan when possible.

The number of stations varied widely, with some manuals of devotion listing as many as 37. The term “stations” in describing the Way of the Cross was first used in the narrative of an English pilgrim, William Wey, who visited the Holy Land twice in the 15th century.

Depictions of the events described in the Stations did not start becoming common in churches until Pope Innocent XI permitted the Franciscans in 1686 to erect such displays in all their churches. He also declared that all indulgences given for visiting the sacred sites in the Holy Land would apply to any Franciscan or Franciscan lay affiliate visiting a set of stations in a church.

Pope Benedict XIII extended that privilege to all the faithful in 1726. Five years later, Pope Clement XII allowed all churches to have stations and fixed the number at 14, where it has been ever since. In recent years, many churches have included the Resurrection as a 15th station. Benedict XIV specifically urged every church in 1742 to enrich its sanctuary with stations.

Two Franciscans of the era did much to spread the popes’ wishes. St. Leonard of Port-Maurice erected stations at more than 500 churches in Italy, and St. Alphonsus Ligouri in 1787 wrote the version of the Stations that most Americans recognize because it was used in most churches in the United States throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

It has become standard for Catholic churches in this country to recite the prayers related to the Stations on the Fridays of Lent. Many churches have two services, one in the afternoon, mainly for schoolchildren, and one in the evening. Some Protestant churches, especially those belonging to the Episcopal or Lutheran denominations, have made the devotion part of their Lenten activities, particularly on Good Friday.

The traditional 14 stations are as follows: Jesus is condemned to death; Jesus takes up his cross; Jesus falls the first time; Jesus meets his mother; Simon of Cyrene carries the cross; Veronica wipes the face of Jesus; Jesus falls the second time; Jesus meets the daughters of Jerusalem; Jesus falls the third time; Jesus is stripped of his garments; Jesus is nailed to the cross; Jesus is crucified; Jesus is taken down from the cross; Jesus’ body is laid in the tomb.

The third, fourth, sixth, seventh, and ninth stations are not specifically described in the Gospels, nor is St. Alphonsus’ depiction in the 13th station of Jesus’ body being laid in the arms of his mother.

In order to provide a version more specifically aligned with biblical accounts, Pope John Paul II introduced the Scriptural Way of the Cross on Good Friday in 1991 and celebrated that form every year thereafter at the Colosseum in Rome. Pope Benedict approved it for meditation and public celebration in 2007.

This version has the following stations: Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane; Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested; Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin; Jesus is denied by Peter; Jesus is judged by Pilate; Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns; Jesus takes up his cross; Simon helps Jesus carry his cross; Jesus meets the daughters of Jerusalem; Jesus is crucified; Jesus promises a place in his kingdom to the good thief; Jesus entrusts Mary and John to each other; Jesus dies on the cross; Jesus is laid in the tomb.

Franciscans have a long tradition of celebrating the Stations in the Colosseum on Fridays. John Paul made the observance an annual part of his Holy Week calendar on Good Friday. He carried a cross himself from station to station until age and infirmity limited his strength. Days before his death in 2005, he observed the Stations from his private chapel in the Vatican.

Pope Benedict XVI has continued the tradition. Each year, a different person is invited to write the meditation text for the pope’s Stations. Past composers of the papal Stations include several non-Catholics. John Paul wrote the text himself in 2000 and used the traditional stations.

Thirteen specially constructed biblical stations were erected around the city of Sydney, Australia, this past July 27 for an observance of the Stations at World Youth Day. They started with the Last Supper at St. Mary’s Cathedral and the agony in the garden at Domain Park and ended in Darling Harbor, where the sunset provided a dramatic backdrop for three crosses erected at the site.

More than 2 million people took part, with 500 million more watching worldwide on television. This may have been the largest gathering ever for the devotion.

Printed with permission from The Catholic Times.

Can you feel Lent yet? Tuesday, Mar 3 2009 

We are not quite a week into Lent yet, having begun on Ash Wednesday.  Our priest had been telling us in the 3 weeks preceding Lent to begin to plan, to prepare our attack on our sinful inclinations and overindulgence.  He encouraged us to be thinking about our own Lent during that time when the Eastern half of the Catholic Church was already into Lent.  Their preparation was incremental.  To see what I mean by that, read this informative article.

This is a good article to read and meditate upon, because what we are asked to do seems so trivial by comparison.  Our Holy Father, in his lenten message for all of us, has explained clearly the what and the why of fasting.  He says that in our culture fasting is “a therapeutic value for the care of one’s body. Fasting certainly bring benefits to physical well-being, but for believers, it is, in the first place, a “therapy” to heal all that prevents them from conformity to the will of God.”   It brings us solidarity with the poor who are often hungry, and it disposes us to partake more of prayer and the word of God. 

So if you haven’t noticed the positive effects of a bit of deprivation, perhaps it would be good to re-examine your lenten plan and to polish up your weapons for the 40-day-less-6-battle of the remaining days before Easter.  And don’t forget about almsgiving–the money you save from the soda or wine you aren’t drinking, or the candy you aren’t eating, or the simple meals you are preparing instead of heavier fare can go to buy food for your local soup kitchen or for the support of a ministry to the poor.  Hopefully, when we celebrate Easter we will look back on Lent and thank God for that great gift from Holy Mother Church.

Mardi Gras to Lent Thursday, Feb 26 2009 

It all went so quickly. Before we knew it, Mardi Gras was coming and in the blink of an eye it was gone. At work we had a Mardi Gras luncheon and I decided to make a King’s Cake.  I didn’t know what it was actually, and I envisioned making my super chocolate cake in a bundt pan, decorating it like a crown, and then taking that in.  But when I got on the internet to see what it should look like, I discovered that king’s cake is actually a bread with a baby (plastic of course) or a coin baked inside. kings-cake1

I found a wonderful recipe here and proceeded to make it.  In the process I learned that even when the jelly roll-up is done evenly, the bread doesn’t always rise evenly, so mine was not perfectly round.  I also learned that Mardi Gras colors mean something:  gold stands for power, green for faith, and purple for justice.

From Mardi Gras the move to Ash Wednesday is very quick and almost jarring.  From revelry (OK, we didn’t revel) to the austerity of Lent is a stark contrast.  It is a blessing from the Church that we have this time to re-evaluate our past year since Lent ended and realign our habits.  I know I have eaten more than I should and prayed less than I should and probably picked up other bad habits as well.  So with the memory of King’s Cake still fresh, I am looking forward to fewer rich foods and more time for quiet and prayer.  St. Teresa of Avila said Lent was the time for obrar y callar. That is to say, Lent is a time to act (do what we must, pray, etc. ) and to be quiet.  That will be my challenge.  How about you?

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