May is Mary’s Month

May is Mary’s Month
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Coronation of the Virgin by Diego Velázquez (1641-1644)

In the Roman Catholic church, the month of May is devoted to a celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For this reason she is sometimes called the Queen of May—she is given the title “queen” in Eastern Orthodox and Anglican faith traditions, as well. Traditionally associated with the birth of new life, May is a natural month to celebrate the Mother of God.

Crown Mary Queen of May

There are many Roman Catholic traditions associated with Mary in the month of May, but perhaps none so beautiful as the “May Crowning,” also popular in the Orthodox Church, in which an icon or statue of the Virgin Mary in the parish church receives ornamentation on May 1st. Garlands of flowers are a popular choice. May Crowning can also be done by families at home. A crown is constructed of wire and children could add flowers and leaves to it. Once finished, the crown could be placed on the head of a Marian statue, or secured around an icon of Mary. Children will also enjoy making flower crowns for themselves, a long-standing spring tradition and perfect for wearing to a May Day celebration or gathering.

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Create a May Altar

Another activity that can be done with children is the construction of a home May Altar. If you already have a designated altar area, the addition of flowers and imagery showing the Queenship of Mary would be a nice addition. This could also be done with a nature table. If you don’t have a home altar or nature table, May is the perfect time to set aside some sacred space in your home. Besides being aesthetically pleasing, home altars can be a place for prayer, reading Scripture, journaling, or enjoying daily devotionals. Even a tiny space can become sacred by its use.

Plant a Mary Garden

For those that enjoy spending time outdoors, planting a Mary garden might be the perfect activity for the month of May. Dating to medieval times, the practice of dedicating a garden space to Mary was revived in the early twentieth century. A statue of Mary, alone or holding the baby Jesus, is central to the Marian garden. Mary has long been associated with flowers, and has been linked to the phrase “I am the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valleys” from the Song of Songs. More than 30 flowers and herbs are associated with Mary, including: Lilies of the valley, peonies, violets, irises, columbine, lavender, and marigolds. Nurturing plants is a wonderful spiritual practice, and a Marian garden is a calm, serene place to engage in prayer and contemplation.

For a wealth of information about Mary visit www.udayton.edu

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St. George’s Day

St. George’s Day
Detail from Saint George and the Dragon by Jacopo Tintoretto (16th Cent)

So on this day let’s celebrate
England’s valleys full of light,
The green fire of the landscape
Lakes shivering with delight


—from “The True Dragon” by Brian Patten

The Feast of Saint George is celebrated in Western countries on April 23rd each year. As the patron saint of their country, George is particularly popular with the English (and those anglophiles among us who love their culture, history, and “valleys full of light”). Though nothing certain is known about George’s life, there are some “facts” that are generally accepted. St. George was born in the third century A.D. in Cappodocia (modern-day Turkey). Raised in a Christian home, George joined the Roman army and served in the guard of the Emperor Diocletian. When confronted by the emperor and asked to renounce his faith, he refused. He was subsequently imprisoned, tortured, and executed in Lydda, Palestine on 23 April 303 A.D.

The most popular legend connected to the life of St. George is his defeat of an evil dragon that was terrorizing the countryside. This story became wildly popular in England, mostly due to the publication in the fifteenth century of a book called The Golden Legend. George’s signature look—a suit of armor and white shield emblazoned with a red cross—grew out of this legend. The romantic image of St. George rescuing a fair maiden from a terrifying monster is in line with the medieval masculine ideal, the miles Christi or “knight of Christ.” Though obviously not an entirely factual account of a true historic event, the legend of St. George and the dragon has deep roots in Christian theology: Christ (the knight victorious) triumphs over the horrors of evil.

At our house, we celebrate St. George’s Day with an English-style tea party and a reading of St. George and the Dragon, written by Margaret Hodges and beautifully illustrated by Tina Schart Hyman. We like to make Cream Tea scones and sip Twinings’ Prince of Wales tea. We serve everything on beautiful English china I got at a second-hand store. As always, I’d like to stress that celebrating the Christian year should be fun, meaningful, and strengthen our connection to God—no need to get stressed or break the budget. The beauty is in the mess.

SELECTED SOURCES
“Saint George,” BBC Religions, www.bbc.co.uk/religion
“Who is St. George,” St. George’s Basilica, www.StGeorge.org.mt

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Celebrate George and England with some tasty scones!

Cream Tea Scones
adapted from King Arthur Flour

Makes 12 scones

Ingredients:
3 c all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 c granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups heavy or whipping cream
additional heavy cream, for brushing on scones
additional sugar, for topping

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.
2. Sprinkle the vanilla over the dry ingredients, then drizzle in the cream, tossing and stirring gently all the while and adding just enough to make a cohesive dough. There shouldn’t be any dry flour in the bottom of the bowl, but the dough shouldn’t be particularly sticky, either.
3. Divide the dough in half, and gently pat each half into a 5 1/2″ circle about 3/4″ thick.
4. Brush each circle with heavy cream, and sprinkle with sugar, if desired.
5. Place the two circles of dough on the baking sheet, and cut each into 6 wedges. Pull the wedges apart a bit, leaving them in a circular pattern with about 1″ space between each wedge.
6. Bake scones for about 15 minutes, until starting to brown and baked all the way through.

Serve warm, split and spread with a bit of sweet butter and jam or preserves.

Gardening with Children

Gardening with Children

8 Ask the plants of the earth,and they will teach you; 9 Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?
10 In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being.

—Job 12:8-10

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Gardening is a wonderful activity for children that can last from early spring until late summer, even here in the frosty Northeast. Before the snow even begins to melt, we’re already excitedly poring over our seed and garden supply catalogs, trying to decide what tasty veggies we will plant this year.

While gardening is one of my favorite warm-weather activities, I just want to note that this page is not meant to be taken as expert advice about growing a garden—there are so many resources for that already, and I am still a beginning gardener, myself. However, I thought it might be nice to touch on some of the ways that children can play a role in planning, nurturing, and enjoying a family garden.

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Seed or Starter Plant?

We’ve had success creating gardens straight from seed and also with started plants. I think both methods have their benefits and drawbacks. Starting from seed allows children the opportunity to really understand the life cycle of plants, which is wonderful, but there is a lot of waiting involved and not everything you plant will be successful—we constructed a beautiful pea and bean teepee one year that really didn’t thrive and that was disappointing to all of us.

Using started plants from a nursery generally guarantees a higher rate of success, and there’s a feeling of almost instant gratification, especially with fast-growers like zucchini! The downside is that buying started plants skips one whole stage of the plant life cycle, and sometimes the plants aren’t as healthy as one would hope. Always buy your seeds and started plants from reputable growers.

Shall I not have intelligence with the earth?
Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself.

—Henry David Thoreau

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Start with a Good Foundation

Vegetable gardens need a lot of sun, so it’s important to take some time to find the right spot for planting. I highly recommend using containers and/or raised beds to start, as they are so much easier to manage (i.e. less weeding), and you have a lot more control over growing conditions.

We actually have two raised beds (4x’8′) in our front yard because that’s the sunniest spot—they’re off to one side, so they’re not too obtrusive. We’ve also added a 1/2-sized bed (4’x4′) that we call the “Child’s Garden” for our youngest, most avid gardener. He has a space all his own to tend, and I think that is really special for him.

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More Advice for Beginners

If you’re new to gardening, start with some tried-and-true favorites like herbs (basil is a good one to try) or greens like kale and Swiss chard—they’re almost impossible to kill, and they’ll keep growing until you rip them out in the fall. If you find your greens are really prolific, you can always make smoothies with the surplus!

My favorite recipe is very simple: Cube a fresh pineapple, divide into four servings, and freeze in Ziploc baggies. When you’re ready to make a smoothie, blend one serving of frozen pineapple with a peeled banana and two handfuls of greens; add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water until smoothie is desired consistency. Kids love these smoothies, even when made with strongly-flavored kale.

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I will reiterate that there are many, many resources out there for beginning gardeners, and it can be a lot to weed through (pun intended). I recommend starting with a university extension—this excellent utility will help you find your local office. I always print out the planting schedule from my extension, which gives me a rough timeline for getting my plants in the ground, and ensures I won’t end up planting too early or too late.

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Get Kids Involved

Besides selecting what to plant, there are many ways that children can help with the family garden. With supervision, they can excel at weeding, watering, and harvesting, to name a few of the many tasks that need doing throughout the growing season. We often have itinerant helpers (neighborhood kids) who stop by to assist and to enjoy a ripe tomato or two—depending on the circumstances, planting a garden can be a community affair, and even a form of ministry.

What was paradise, but a garden full of vegetables
and herbs and pleasure? Nothing there but delights.

—William Lawson

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Number One Tip? Be Prepared to Fail

My final words of advice: Don’t be too hard on yourself if things go all “pear-shaped,” as the Brits say. Gardening can be very rewarding, and also very frustrating. Sometimes plants die, or get covered in downy mildew, or have blight, and that’s all part of the experience. There are ways to prevent these things, but the solutions can be expensive and/or involve chemicals you don’t really want your family to ingest. Sometimes you take what you get, and you do what you can with it (to quote my parents). And, for added reassurance, I will confess that I’ve had tomato plants with nothing left but yellowing stalks and a handful of shriveled, brown leaves and yet they still produced delicious fruit. Things don’t have to be pretty to be tasty!

For more inspiration, visit the “Gardening for Children” section of my recommended reading page. You can also read my posts in the “Our Garden” series on my personal blog.

Happy gardening, friends!