Finding Your Spot

A while back (I don’t exactly remember when), a friend of mine recommended that we meet up at a local bar she likes. I agreed, plugged the address into my GPS, and went on my merry way. I parked my car in the nearest parking lot and started walking towards where (my darling) Google Maps told me to go.

And there was a dark wall. It was your standard dark exterior wall, just another wall of another building in my city. In the middle of this wall was a doorway, but at first glance I thought it was a service entrance to another establishment. Then I realized that it wasn’t; this more or less unmarked  door was in fact the door that I was looking for. (There’s a small, unobtrusive sign near the door, but I didn’t notice that until at least my tenth visit.) This isn’t the kind of place that you stumble upon. This is like a speakeasy; you have to be looking for it to find it. And you go looking for it because someone (probably someone you really like and respect) told you about it.

I tentatively went through this door, and the bouncer directed me to my friend. The bar is dimly lit and pleasantly decorated. (The speakeasy vibe created by the door continues inside the bar.) The menus are designed to look like book covers. The drinks menu is divided into “chapters.” I loved it, and I’ve grown to love it more each subsequent time that I visit it. The service is excellent. The seats are comfortable. The food is delightful. (Please let me tell you about the lamb sliders.) And the drinks…oh man…the drinks, they are amazing.

This bar (The Last Word) is one of my favorite spots. The ambiance suits my personality. It can be loud on the weekend, but it can also be a quiet place to read a book or have a serious conversation on a weeknight. For me, that’s a delightful option. I like having a place where I can go and read with a cocktail. Yes, I can do that at home, but sometimes it’s nice to get a change of scenery and do that somewhere other than my house.

In this particular bar, I’ve found a “spot” for myself. I’ve found a place that suits me, and I like to think that I suit it too. I think it’s important to find “spots” for oneself in life. It’s good to find places where you feel safe, comfortable, and wanted. There’s a bookstore in my city that I find to be utterly magical, and part of that is because it’s a place where I feel safe and wanted. I once had a great conversation with one of the owners of the store about books that we were supposed to read in high school but didn’t. Another visit found a salesperson telling me about the time she met Julia Child. These conversations have helped me to feel connected to the people in the store. They promote my feeling of comfort and ease in the store.

I recommend seeking out these sorts of places. Find places where you feel wanted and comfortable, places where you feel free to be yourself. Find places where you can curl up with a good book or a have a random brilliant conversation with a stranger. Find places where the barista or bartender or waiter can give you beverage recommendations that might take you out of your comfort zone-and you trust those recommendations.

Your spot might not look like mine. The speakeasy thing might not be your style. Maybe you don’t want to go curl up in a coffeeshop and read with a mug of tea. That’s fine. Maybe the places that you like will be places that I wouldn’t like. That’s great. You find your place, and I’ll find mine. The important thing is that you find your spot(s). We all need our little refuges from the craziness of life. Find yours and enjoy it.

Saying Thank You

When it’s cold or raining outside, I help with dismissal at work. I go outside and help make sure that kids get safely and quickly to their cars. I might get cold or wet-or both. My hair might get messed up. But really, it’s not a big deal; it’s part of my job. One recent morning, my boss gave me a bag of caramel corn as a thank-you for helping with dismissal.

It’s not a big deal. I don’t mind going outside for a short amount of time to help the kiddos. Yes, my fingers or toes might get cold. My hair might get messed up. But I don’t really mind it. Who cares what my hair looks like after 3pm? I can put it in a ponytail or messy bun.

The thing that struck me is the act of thanking me. This is a situation where it really is the thought that counts. A bag of caramel corn is a simple way of saying “Hey, I noticed that thing that you did.” It’s important to acknowledge people when you notice them doing something.

This is something that I’ve been thinking about lately. It’s important to acknowledge people. Thanking people who help you, acknowledging people who work in stores-these things are important. At some point in my early twenties, I started making a point of saying “You too” to every person who said “Have a nice day” to me. Next, I started meaning it. And then, I started saying it to people who hadn’t said it to me. I’m no better or worse than the people who stock shelves at Target. People who make drinks at Starbucks are doing something for you. Yes, they’re getting paid for it, but they’re doing a service for you.

It’s important to treat people with respect and dignity. We need to make a habit of noticing other people. One of the things that I’ve really learned in the past few months is how easy it is to get focused in our own worlds and ignore the world around us. It’s easy to ignore or shut out people who disagree with us. It’s easy to overlook people.

But if we want to make the world a better place, we need to treat people better. We need to be more respectful of other people. Sometimes, that just means asking someone how they’re doing or wishing them a good day. If we treat others with intentional kindness, we will contribute to making the world a better place. And that’s what will really change the world-small acts stemming from genuine kindness.

Let’s do that. Let’s live with genuine kindness. Let’s make the world a better place.

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

-St. Teresa of Calcutta

Galentine’s Day

It’s Galentine’s Day, the day when I make waffles for dinner and eat them with Strong Female Drinks (not girly drinks) while watching the appropriate episodes of Parks and Recreation. It’s a day that Amy Poehler gave us to celebrate female friendship and sisterhood.

I’ve been thinking about female friendship and strong women of late. The world needs strong women. It needs strong people to begin with, but we really need strong women. We need women who aren’t afraid to be themselves.

“Female friendship has been the bedrock of women’s lives for as long as there have been women.”

-Rebecca Traister, New York Times, February 27, 2016

It’s also really important to encourage women to be friends with one another rather than competing with one another. One of the things that I love about Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation is that she builds relationships with the strong women in her life. She seeks out female friends and encourages each of those women to become the best version of herself. She can be a bit overzealous at times, but she means well. Leslie wants to see her friends succeed; it’s one of her greatest strengths.

Image from BuzzFeed

Image from BuzzFeed

As women, we need to do this for one another. We need to build one another up and encourage them. Life isn’t just about romance; friendship is at least as important as romance. Friendship is there to nourish and sustain us. It reminds us that we are not alone, that each of our lives has value. One of the beauties of Ann and Leslie’s friendship on Parks and Rec is how it endures regardless of relationship status or job situation or emotional state. They love each other, and they are there for one another. They’re not afraid to call each other on their crap or to question decisions that they don’t understand. But they’re always there for one another. Yes, Leslie can be overbearing. Yes, Ann has some flaw somewhere in that

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”

-Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Galentine’s Day isn’t really about waffles or Strong Female Drinks. It’s about friendship with women. It’s about building up your fellow women, encouraging them to be their best selves, and being there for one another. We need that. We need strong women, and we need strong friendships between women. So make some waffles, mix up a Suffragette Soda, and enjoy some female bonding…because females are strong as hell.

FO: Ease

After I finished Recoleta, I wanted to a quick and easy project. Worsted weight, stockinette-something comfortable and straightforward; I didn’t want to have to spend hours looking at charts. I just wanted to knit and see progress quickly.

A few years back, I had queued Alicia Plummer’s Ease. Ease is pretty much exactly what I was looking for-stockinette, top down, worsted weight. I had a sweater quantity of the Plucky Knitter’s Primo Worsted in a gorgeous gray-purple called French laundry. Looking at it, I knew that it was meant to be Ease. It just made sense that this color would be Ease.

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So after finishing Recoleta, I started on Ease. It took me exactly four weeks, but I made it. It is simple and gorgeous. The color really was meant to be Ease. The yarn, the color, and the pattern suit each other very well.

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I did have a few issues with the pattern. From reading over others’ project pages, I determined that I wasn’t going to get gauge with the recommended size 10 needles. Instead, I went with size 8 needles for the stockinette, size 6 for all ribbing, and size 7 for the neckline. I’m pleased with the resulting fabric; I made the right decision.

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The sweater is loose-fitting, and that works. The fabric of the primo worsted is soft and squishy; it keeps me warm on a chilly day. It’s something that I can wear when it’s cold or I don’t need to impress anyone. It’s a Saturday sweater, and everyone’s wardrobe needs a Saturday sweater.

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Raveled here.

The Beauty of Geography

Recently, I was thinking about how I came to be Byzantine Catholic, and I realized that the easiest way to explain it is that it’s an accident of geography. My dad’s maternal grandparents came to America from a part of Europe that was Slovakia at the time and settled near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; they eventually ended up in the metro Detroit area where my Byzantine Catholic grandmother married my never-baptized but ostensibly Protestant grandfather and had four children. (Happy side note: My grandfather was baptized in a Byzantine Catholic Church about a year ago at the age of 92. I still get teary-eyed with joy thinking about it.) Then, my Byzantine Catholic father, the youngest of those four children, married my Roman Catholic mother who embraced the Byzantine Catholic Church, my brother and I were born, and they raised us to know and love that Church.

There’s a lot that feels a bit random in that narrative. My dad’s grandparents happened to be from a Byzantine Catholic region of Eastern Europe. Give or take a few miles, and they’d have been Orthodox or Roman Catholic. But by what some might call an accident of geography, they were Byzantine Catholic. I don’t know how strong the catechesis of my ancestors was. I don’t know how much they understood about their faith, but that doesn’t matter. They continued the motion of a chain of events that led to me being Byzantine Catholic.

The reality is that none of this is random. God doesn’t deal in coincidences or accidents. It was not actually due to an accident of geography that I was born into a Byzantine Catholic family. I was born into this family and this Church because it was where God wants me. There is a reason that I was born into this Church and not into the Roman Catholic Church or an Orthodox Church, and that reason is the will of God.

In my experience, the Eastern Catholic Churches sit in a complicated position. Not everyone loves our existence. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked when I’m going to get off the fence and become Orthodox or Roman Catholic. I’ve been told that it would be easier to just become Orthodox. Perhaps it would. But easier isn’t always the best option or the right one. God has a purpose for the Byzantine Catholic Churches. In a talk he gave last September, Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church defines the Byzantine Catholic Churches as living out the spirit of the first Christian millennium; that is we live out an Orthodox spirituality and theology while living in communion with the See of Rome. He sees us as living out the call of Christ for His people to dwell in full and loving unity. Diversity ought to be allowed, accepted, and embraced.

I could go on about that for ages, but that’s a digression. I believe that the Byzantine Catholic Churches have a beautiful purpose in our world. I believe that we need to be vocal in showing the world the beauty of our Church. We are a living and active representation of heaven on earth, and we must live that out in a way that radiates into the lives of those around us. I firmly believe that we are called to show the beauty of unity to the world by our lives. Yes, we hold a complicated position, but it does not follow that this position ought to be abandoned because of difficulty.

There is beauty in this difficulty. I’ve talked before about the difficulty of being an Eastern Catholic both in an ecumenical environment and in strictly Catholic environments. It is not easy to be the minority or the other. And at times it does feel as though some obnoxious accident of geography put me in this place. But it wasn’t an accident that put me in this place. It was God, and if God put me here, then there is beauty in this complicated place.

It may not always be obvious beauty. It may not always be easy to look past external complications. Yes, Byzantine Catholicism is aesthetically pleasing. I love the sensory experience of my church. It is is a gorgeous place to be. The music is beautiful. The people (at least in my experience) are wonderful. However, the disunity of the Christian body can be discouraging and ugly.

It is hard to know leaders of other Churches believe that my Church is the greatest obstacle to unity between the Christian East and Christian West. It’s hurtful to be called a “uniate.” On the other hand, I can understand that it is hurtful to other Churches that my Church reestablished communion with the See of Rome several hundred years ago. Yes, we acted from political reasons more than religious/spiritual, and I can easily see why that’s hurtful to others. We have to accept that and work with it; we cannot ignore the hurt in the hopes it will go away. The wounds need to be acknowledged and discussed.

Christian unity is a complex thing. Yes, we are called to unity, but we are called to unity in diversity as St. John Paul II said. It’s important to highlight our common ground, but it’s also important to acknowledge our differences and discuss them. We need to embrace our brokenness and take it to the Cross, to the One who heals all wounds. Christ alone can heal the brokenness of our Church. He can bring great goodness into this situation and out of it.

In closing, it is the beauty of geography that made me Byzantine Catholic rather than Roman Catholic or Orthodox. The geography that wrought this situation is beautiful because it was made by God. God the Father may not have willed the brokenness of His Son’s body. He may not rest well pleased with the wounds within the Church. But that absolutely does not mean that He will abandon His Church, the Bride of Christ to perish in brokenness. No, Jesus comes to make all things new (Rev. 21:15), and He will use anything to do that. He will use politics, geography, humble prayers, conversations, ecumenical action…God will use anything that comes from a sincere desire to serve His Kingdom to make this thing new.

And maybe we won’t see the Church fully restored on this side of Paradise, but we have not been abandoned. He is a God of restoration and renewal, not a God of accidents. He makes beautiful things out of us. He wants this Church, His Church to be whole. And to do that, he’s going to use all of us-Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Byzantine Catholics, Protestants…we’re all called to this table. We’re all called to unity. We are called to be One as the Trinity is One.

Father God, heal and restore Your Church. Make us One as the Trinity is One. Renew and restore Your people. Break down walls, and heal wounds. Give wisdom to Church leaders, and give hope to Your people. Father, make us one. 


(This is the other well-known article about the region of Europe from which my ancestors came. March 15, 1939 was our big day; we should celebrate that more.)

Austentatious Cocktails

I was just sitting there when a thought popped into my head. “What kind of cocktails would Anne Eliot drink? Like, imagine that the Austen characters lived in the twenty-first century, and they went to bars or whatever. Let’s say that Mr. Darcy, Captain Wentworth, and Anne Eliot were at the bar waiting for Lizzy Bennet to show up. What are they drinking? Mr. Darcy is drinking a g&t. Wentworth has a dark beer-probably a porter. What is Anne drinking?”

So naturally, I did went any normal Austentatious lass does at nine o’clock on a Friday night. I went on facebook and posted the following on my friend’s wall: Am I weird or do other people spend time thinking about what modern cocktails are best suited to various Austen characters too?

She told me to write a blog post about it. Here you go, Katie.

Fitzwilliam Darcy: An old-fashioned; it’s classy with a lot of character. You have to know your cocktails and whisk(e)y if you want to get a good one. (He does not appreciate frou-frou fruit in his. A simple orange rind garnish will do, thank you.)

Elizabeth Bennet: Gin and tonic with just a lime; it’s not overly sweet, hard to mess up, and casual with a touch of sophistication.

Charles Bingley: A Jack-Rose; something warm and sweet

Jane Bennet: Three dollar daiquiris; the sort that can’t really have anything in them, but Jane is perpetually worried about getting drunk.

Mary Bennet: Negroni; people don’t get it, but she likes it. It’s a strong taste and not everyone likes it, but it fulfills her. It’s an acquired taste.

Lady Catherine DeBourgh: Rob Roys; she loves her Scotch, and she has very strong opinions about The Right Kind of Scotch-both age and producer. (She’s actually usually wrong, but her nephew Colonel Fitzwilliam [the real Scotch expert of the clan] won’t argue with her about that. It’s not worth it.)

Mr. Collins: He will drink whatever his esteemed patroness, Lady Catherine DeBourgh, tells him to drink even if he doesn’t like it. Sometimes she makes him drink a Tom Collins because she thinks that’s funny.

Charlotte Collins: Lady Catherine DeBourgh has many recommendations for her, and Charlotte listens gracefully and accepts what she is given without complaint. However, when she has her druthers, she really enjoys mint juleps. Mint and bourbon? It’s eccentric enough for her.

Lydia Bennet: Shots of lemon drops followed by tequila until she is blackout hammered; straight….mildly bad ideas leading to really bad ideas.

Emma Woodhouse: The Last Word; the name fits, and also at first it can be too much if you’re not braced for it. It’s very strong things that are balanced, which she isn’t at first, but she becomes so.

George Knightley: Dark and stormy; it suits his soul well.

Edmund Bertram: Port-really good port; he has deep theological conversations with Edward Ferrars over port.

Fanny Price: Sherry or wine that has a pretty low ABV.

Marianne Dashwood: She wants to drink the fanciest, fussiest shit out there, and she doesn’t actually understand the flavors, but she wants the essential experience of the fanciest hipster shit. She’s also open to suggestions from whatever guy (John Willoughby) wants to mansplain cocktails to her.

Colonel Christopher Brandon: Cognac; it just suits him.

Elinor Dashwood: Normally, she’s the DD, but when she’s with friends (and not Marianne) or Edward, she likes strong liquors. Sometimes she prefers fruity drinks, other times more bitter drinks. And sometimes, she just needs to shoot tequila.

Edward Ferrars: As portrayed by Dan Stevens, he drinks a sidecar-classic but easy-going; it’s the intelligent choice. As portrayed by Hugh Grant, he orders a rum and coke; he can’t think of anything else to order.

Captain Frederick Wentworth: Dark beers; he especially enjoys a good porter. (Please do not ask about the fussy little drinks that Louisa Musgrove tried to get him to drink.)

Anne Eliot: She likes absinthe. She will drink straight, but she also enjoys sipping a nice Sazerac or Corpse Reviver #2.

George Wickham: Absolut in various flavors…and then he collects the bottles and makes them into shitty, obnoxious lamps.

John Willoughby: Strong stuff straight

Frank Churchill: He drinks wine coolers, but really fancy wine coolers from indie wineries that he has to drive 25 miles to get.

Birthday Cakes for Harry Potter Characters

In my quirkier moments, I enjoy making birthday cakes for authors and fictional characters. Over the past several years, I’ve gotten into making cakes for the characters of the Harry Potter universe. So today, I’m taking you through the year and offering my recommendations for the appropriate cake for each character.

January 9: Severus Snape

Snivellus enjoys a spice cake made with molasses and a powdered sugar topping. Most people don’t know this. Dumbledore and Lily both did, so Snape’s years at Hogwarts were the happiest of his life because they ensured that he always had the birthday cake of his choosing.

January 30: Lily Evans-Potter

Lily gets two birthday cakes. James Potter would get his wife the most overly sentimental store-bought cake with overwhelming frosting flowers. On the other hand, Remus Lupin would secretly make her a beautiful double chocolate cake, the same cake that she always makes for his birthday.

February 6: Arthur Weasley

For Arthur Weasley, I choose a common grocery store box mix. Arthur loves all things Muggle, and while his wife is an excellent cook, I suspect that this birthday boy would be far more delighted by a “Muggle cake” than by a delicious concoction from his Molly-wobbles.

March 1: Ron Weasley

I felt like Ron needed something traditional like a vanilla cake with chocolate frosting. He just wants it to be clear that it is his birthday and that has been remembered. He wants his name piped onto the top with candles indicating his age so that it’s clear whose birthday it is and how old Ron is.

March 10: Remus Lupin

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Double chocolate cake with chocolate frosting; it’s the only thing our favorite werewolf would ever want. Lily always made it for him from their third year at Hogwarts.

March 27: James Potter

A cake with too many layers that is perpetually always falling over…a vanilla cake with raspberry jam between the layers; Sirius always helps make and stack the cake while Remus and Lily watch, wonder, and worry.

April 1: Fred and George Weasley

Fred and George get a funfetti cake made from scratch. It’s the only thing funny enough for them. Then, it gets brightly colored frosting and sprinkles on top. It’s fun. It’s exciting. Oh, and the cake itself is actually cinnamon-vanilla flavored. It’s a surprise, just like the twins.

May 15: Pomona Sprout

Carrot cake! And don’t forget the raisins. It’s absolutely perfect for our favorite Herbology professor prior to Neville Longbottom’s tenure. And be sure to go heavy on the cream cheese frosting; Professor Sprout loves a good cream cheese frosting.

June 5: Draco Malfoy

Draco gets a simple vanilla cake with white frosting. It’s simple. It’s classic. Would Lucius approve it? Absolutely not, but we’ll throw silver and green sprinkles on top in hopes of placating the Malfoy patriarch at least a touch.

June 28: Dobby

Dobby would be perfectly happy to just know that humans had remembered his birthday, and to this end, he wouldn’t care too terribly much what sort of cake he had. With that in mind, make him YOUR favorite cake; he’ll love it.

July 30: Neville Longbottom

Neville grew up with a good grandmother but no mother. I can’t see Augusta Longbottom making good “mom cake” birthday cakes, so I decided that I’d make sure that Neville always had a good “mom cake” for his birthday. So I went with the Texas sheet cake for Neville. It’s big. It’s homemade. It’s heartfelt. It’s warm and welcoming.

July 31: Harry Potter

I’ll never be able to move past the cake that Hagrid made for Harry. Harry will always get a simple two-layer chocolate cake with pink frosting and “HAPPEE BIRTHDAE HARRY” scrawled across the top in bright green frosting.

August 11: Ginevra Weasley

A strawberry cake with chocolate frosting and Bertie Botts Beans on top for decoration-it’s girly inside with a dark outside.

August 22: Percy Weasley

An angel food cake decorated with royal icing lends a touch of class to a birthday party that doesn’t have much. It’s hard to be Percy Weasley. Your brothers are all absurd; no, your whole family is absurd. No one else even tries to reach your level of urbane sophistication.

September 19: Hermione Granger

A German chocolate cake that Ron is not allowed to ruin make will suit the brains of the Golden Trio. After growing up with Muggle dentists, Hermione likes sweet things and really well-made things. To that end, her mother-in-law always makes sure that Hermione’s German chocolate cake is pleasing both to the eye and the stomach.

October 4: Minerva McGonagall

No cake for Professor McGonagall; just a good old-fashioned Scottish shortbread with raspberry coulis. It’s simple, straight-forward, and delicious.

October 17: Filius Flitwick

Professor Flitwick’s birthday trifle will charm any and all comers. Pound cake, fresh blackberries, and freshly whipped cream make for a simple but delightful dessert.

October 30: Molly Weasley

For the matriarch of the Weasley family, an apple cake with a cinnamon streusel is recommended. She wants it to be made in a bundt pan; her sons think that is ridiculous.

November 3: Sirius Black

Sirius gets a Starlight cake (from the Betty Crocker cookbook) with cinnamon and pecans mixed in-because being in Azkaban for 12 years will turn you into a bit of a nutter. The Starlight is a reference to the astrological references in the Black family naming schema. The frosting for the middle of this two-layer cake is yellow while the outside is frosted in red; both colors reference his pride to be the first Gryffindor from the Black family.

November 29: Bill Weasley

Bill’s wife is French, and he spent several years of his life in Egypt. So Bill’s cake is a bit outside the box. Instead of a standard cake, Bill has a brioche with a savory filling inspired by the Middle East. To this end, I make a brioche with a spinach-mushroom-goat cheese filling between the layers. There is an abundance of garlic, onion, and turmeric in this birthday cake. It’s flavor-filled, a little eccentric, and thoroughly delightful-just like Bill Weasley.

December 6: Rubeus Hagrid

Hagrid would make himself a rock cake. We don’t recommend that you follow suit. If you want something that he and you would both enjoy, go for a rum-infused pound cake.

December 12: Charlie Weasley

Charlie wouldn’t care too much what kind of cake he had. He just wants it to be shaped like a dragon. He likes almond cake best because it goes well with all of the nuts needed to create the spines of the dragon.

December 31: Tom Riddle

Most of Tom Riddle’s problems in life come from the fact that he never had a birthday cake. Any remaining problems came from the fact that he was conceived while his father was under the influence of a love potion. But the lack of birthday cake was a substantial contributing factor in his downfall. Basically, skip the celebration of his birthday, and go enjoy New Year’s Eve.