News from the convent: Dinner, death and donuts

Our lead story:

A protestant took part in a Catholic Eucharist. In other news: Hell did not freeze over.

It happened last Friday, March 1. The convent’s “Founding Day.” The Mass was a special one and many people attended. Sisters from far away attended. Employees of the convent attended.

I, a Presbyterian, attended.

I knew none of the songs, but I faked it well. As for the prayers, there were a few others not doing the sign of the cross either. So yeah. I wasn’t the only protestant on the field. (For the record, I’m pretty sure there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with a protestant making the motion, however this one is fairly certain she’d whack herself in the nose if she attempted it.)

Then we segued into the Eucharist and in all honesty, Catholics are masters with the segue. It’s seamless. There was another song and people started walking forward. I was about to sit down because, you know. Not Catholic.

Only I noticed everyone was walking forward. Everyone. Even the non-crossers, whom we presume are fellow protestants.

I grew up in a Catholic neighborhood. I had Catholic friends. I know the drill. Only Catholics. Never me.

But these Franciscans have been described as radical. So maybe?

I whispered to the woman sitting next to me – a frequent visitor to the convent, she runs their volunteer organization in St. Cloud — and I ask, “Do you know if it’s okay if protestants–”

I didn’t get to finish; she was nodding emphatically. “I know for a fact it’s okay,” she said, adding, “The Sisters think it’d be like inviting someone to dinner and then not allowing them to eat.”

Which is a marvelous way to put it, don’t you think?

Speaking of dinner, there was one after the Mass and it was free. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, several salads including a “copper coin” salad. A dish that will forever change my view on cooked carrots. For dessert, apple pie.

In sadder news from the convent:

One of the Sisters passed away.

Deaths are announced quietly here, by way of a little slip of paper on the entrance to the convent.

front door of convent

It was a Sister I’d never met before: Sister Bernarda. She was 102 years old.

She had been a registered nurse and hospital administrator. Other Sisters reported she was always dignified and direct, and took care to present herself well and look her best. They also said she was very patient and kind to young nurses in training, had a charming sense of humor and was loved by all.

One thing I kept hearing from the Sisters: “I’m happy for her.”

They truly have a different view of death.

The day before she died, Sister Bernarda went to the convent’s beauty salon and got a permanent. (Let that sink in. At 102, she got a perm.)

She told the beautician she needed to look nice because she was “going to meet Jesus.”

Sister Bernarda

This is the news, folks. I’m not making this up.

From the lighter side of of the news:

Yesterday was Donut Day. Also known as Shrove Tuesday.

So apparently this is a thing? Honestly, I had no idea. Growing up Lutheran, every day was donut day. But for those whose Lenten tradition meant giving up decadent food, all that fat and sugar had to get used up. Hence, donuts on Shrove Tuesday.

Full disclosure: I’ve never had a donut as good as my Grandma’s. They arrived on your plate literally moments after she pulled them from the fryer, crispy and golden and oh-so-good. Never too sweet and perfect for dunking in tea.

But these, my friends? These came close. Really, really close.

Speaking of Lent, not sure if it’s your custom to give up something – it’s not mine, but I always liked the notion strictly for the challenge of it. Anyway, came across something that might be the most difficult challenge I’ve seen. It comes from Pope Francis.

Lent image

Even if we aren’t 100% successful, I rather think if we all just attempted these, we might change the world.

And that’s our news from the convent. Until next time: Be humble, be kind, and always choose love. 💗

On nativity sets and bread pudding with bourbon sauce

For those of you who landed here in the hope of finding a recipe for bread pudding with bourbon sauce, let not your heart be troubled. For indeed, there is one.

And since I know how irritating it is to have to scroll through an entire blog post when all you want is the freakin’ recipe–seriously, do we need a picture for every time they crack an egg?–I made you a jump link straight to it: Click to jump to recipe

(Gosh, it’s been so long since I did a jump link, sure hope I did it right. If not, I wonder where they all went to?)

Oh well. On my nativity set. Here’s a picture of it:

Nativity set

The set is from the Willow Creek collection and is ridiculously popular, but for the record, I bought it when it first came out. Before it was popular. Just so you know.

It’s the first nativity set I ever bought and the only reason I did so is that Mary is holding the baby.

Nativity set with mary holding baby

Most sets have her praying, like she wishes he’d go to sleep already…

Nativity with praying mary

Other times she looks surprised there’s a baby at all, which I guess is reasonable given the circumstances…

Nativity with surprised mary

Once I saw a set where Mary was holding up a cloth. I told Husband, “Look! She’s got a diaper!” He thought it was the swaddling cloth. Sadly, I never saw the set again.

Anyway, the reason I’m musing on nativity sets, other than it being Christmas and all, is that it recently came to my attention it was St. Francis who came up with the idea.

(For those of you who follow this blog and don’t just come here hoping to snag a recipe, you’ll know I recently started working at a Franciscan convent. Hence, my recently acquired knowledge of nativity sets.)

It was St Francis who created the first living nativity. He set it up in a cave in central Italy and it was so popular that for several years after it was reenacted throughout Italy. Eventually they created small replicas for people to keep in their homes.

His intent, St. Francis’ that is, was to have a scene where people could reflect on the event; no one cared if it was historically accurate or not.

Nativity and st francis

Even so, for a lot of us, it became gospel truth. The stable, the wooden manger filled with straw, the shepherds and wise men jockeying for space, the stingy innkeeper, the whole shtick.

Several years ago I saw a video of a theologian talking about the nativity story. It was quite entertaining, mostly because he talked with so much enthusiasm.

According to this theologian — his name was Dr. Bailey — it’s far more likely Jesus was born in a home, not a stable. The homes of that time and region consisted of one big room, a portion of which was lower and that’s where the animals were kept at night. Mainly to protect them from thieves, but also because they added warmth to the house.

As for the manger, it was probably a concave spot cut into the main floor for feeding the animals on the lower level. When the angels told the shepherds, “You will find the babe wrapped in bands of cloth, lying in a manger,” they would have pictured a home just like one they grew up in. The message was clear: “He’s one of us!”

There’s a lot more Dr. Bailey said, including specifics as to why they’d be in a house. If you’d like to read an article he wrote, you can do so here.

What I love about this rendition is that it becomes a tale of hospitality and family. A new baby lain not on scratchy straw but in a cozy nook, a young couple assisted by relatives they probably never met before, the nervous new mother comforted by wise and knowing women. And however poor the family, they would have shared their food as well.

It could be that this is where our present day Christmas gets it right. Families and friends getting together, sharing food and conversation, a extra room if needed.

And here’s where we segue into the bread pudding with bourbon sauce, because if you’re going to be hospitable toward your family, a little bourbon can’t hurt.

And if my jump-link worked, we’re now joined with our recipe hunters too.

Oh, hey there! Nice to see you again!

Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce

  • Difficulty: easier than you think
  • Print

This is a tasty, grown-up version of bread pudding, with cranberries because I’m not fond of raisins. But feel free to use whatever dried fruit you’d like. Also, if you’d rather not have bourbon in it, use apple cider instead. 

bread pudding

Ingredients:

  • 4 or 5 cups dry bread cubes
  • 2 cups half-n-half (can use milk or almond milk instead)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries, soaked a couple hours in  1/2 cup bourbon or apple cider
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 Tablespoons butter, melted

Bourbon Sauce:

  • 4 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup bourbon whiskey (reserved from soaking fruit)

First off, put the dried cranberries (or dried fruit of choice) in a bowl and soak in bourbon (or liquid of choice). Let soak for a good 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour half-n-half (or milk) in a mixing bowl and add the bread cubes. Stir gently until all the liquid is absorbed. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla and spices. Strain the dried cranberries, reserving 1/4 cup liquid for the sauce. Pour the egg mixture over the bread cubes and add the cranberries, stir gently until combined.

Grease an 8×8-inch pan with the melted butter. Pour the bread and egg mixture into the baking pan; bake at 350°F for 35 minutes or until the liquid has set.

To make bourbon sauce: Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat; stir in sugar and egg and whisk until smooth. Slowly cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens a little. Remove from heat and stir in bourbon. (Note: the alcohol does not cook out.)

Pour the bourbon sauce over the bread pudding to serve. Enjoy!

Working among nuns and radicals

On a post about five or so months ago, where I told of my relocation up North, I ended by saying I got a job at a hospital near our house.

Maybe you wondered why I never mentioned this job again? Or maybe you never thought about it, which is completely understandable because why would you?

The reason I never talked about the job was because 10 days into said job, I quit.

Have you ever started working at a place and as you stood there watching the other employees do their thing, know deep in your heart it’s not your thing and never would be your thing and what in God’s name ever made you think it could be your thing?

Also, what I was told would be my schedule turned out to be more theory than practice. It might one day be my schedule, but for now it was anything goes. So I went.

What followed was a time of self-reflection, doubt, and existential malaise. Or, what is commonly known as, a job search.

grumpy-cat-300x200I forget how many interviews I had. Or how many times Indeed-dot-com notified me with: “______ looked at your resume!” Without bothering to note that “_____” was in California or Florida or Guam.

I tried to stay positive.

Hey, with all this free time, I can write blog posts galore! Resuscitate its Facebook page, update the blog theme, tidy up the sidebar!

Gosh, maybe I’ll even dig out that novel I’ve been working on for… oh gee, I don’t know… 15 years? Hey, now I can be a full-time writer!

Oh, if only I had a smoking jacket! Or smoked!

But lo, this writer’s dream was not to be. I found that with no pressure on my time, I make sad use of it. I needed to get out of the house. I needed a sense of purpose. I needed—gasp!—I needed to be around people. (For an introvert, this is a startling revelation.)

Then Husband found a help wanted ad in the paper:

Administrative Assistant with desktop publishing and database skills; ability to write and format newsletters; creativity and good writing skills a must; knowledge of video editing software a plus. Please send letter of introduction with resume.

There was one peculiar addition:

Must be knowledgeable of Franciscan spirituality or willing to learn.

Forgot to mention, the job was at a convent.

So, yeah. I’m working at a convent now. Have been for a little over a month. It’s a fascinating place.

I don’t mean to put down men—honestly, I love you guys—but there’s something about women who choose to live without them. It’s like they come into their own.

Also, this Franciscan thing.

The couple I work for–they’re a lay couple who oversee two of the convent’s ministries–they give me books to read so I can understand their work better. They reserve a quiet room for me, I can get free popcorn at the convent’s top-notch cafeteria. We meet afterwards to discuss what I read.

It’s like I’m getting paid to attend a book club.

Things I’ve learned: St. Francis was a radical. And here I thought he was just a guy who liked birds.

St FrancisThese nuns can be pretty radical too. Never before have I worked with a group of people who are so focused outwardly. Even things like tossing a piece of paper in the garbage—Wait! That can be recycled!—Wait! Did we write on both sides first?

The woman I work for, let’s call her Mrs. Boss, said if anything were to happen in town—if some injustice was occurring—these sisters would be the first ones marching out the door, carrying signs in protest.

And I can see it happening, too. Though it would be a slow procession, given their ages and several using walkers.

walkersSuch is my life now. Living in a blue state, working among Franciscan nuns.

And here I thought the biggest change for me would be the weather. 😉

Featured photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash