17 October 2014

Seven Quick Takes on sleep, fire, food and a happy announcement

Lazy blogger syndrome is back... I'll keep trying, I promise. Thank goodness for Jen's Seven Quick Takes linkup, which usually ensures I post at least once a week!

I
We've woken up at way-too-early o'clock three out of the last eight days with wet sheets... Little Bear's overnight diapers are not doing their job. Then he's cold and wet, and we all have to tumble out of bed and strip the sheets and get him changed and by that point we are all awake enough for there to not be a point to going back to bed, but still tired enough to be grumpy about it. Is there a brand that works better than Huggies Overnights? Or do I have to admit that it's probably time to potty train? So not looking forward to that...

Up early, plus up early yesterday, plus no naps/short naps all week, leaves me ridiculously tired today. Even beyond the lack of sleep, though, I've been tired; everything seems like it takes so much energy, even thinking. Hopefully I'll be able to fall asleep for a little bit before Little Bear wakes up from his nap today.

II
He's napping in his own bed, though; we've made pretty good progress on teaching him that he goes to sleep in his own bed at nap time and bed time every day. He usually winds up in our bed by midnight, but if I wasn't so cold and tired in the middle of the night, I don't think it would be too hard to sooth him back to sleep in his own bed at that point instead of bringing him into our room. The cold is probably part of why he's waking up: he's getting better about falling asleep under blankets, but he still often pushes them off while he sleeps. And his room is by far the coldest in our apartment, which makes no sense because his door is literally six feet from the fireplace, and with the fireplace going in the evenings we regularly get the living room up over 70 degrees.

III
As soon as Matt learned the fire-building technique my dad uses for his fireplace, he had no trouble building fires at home. It's taken me a little longer, but the past two evenings while Matt has been in class, I've successfully built good several-hour one-match fires that really warmed up the living room. Last night it took me an hour to put Little Bear to bed, and when I finally got out to the living room I still had enough glowing coals to rebuild the fire enough to put several more logs on without using any paper or more matches! I was pretty proud of myself. 

IV
I was even more proud of myself earlier yesterday evening for not freaking out when I went to start building the fire and found that one of the logs Matt had brought in to thaw the night before was riddled with bug-tunnels, and there on the hearth was a 1x3cm larvae of some kind that had woken up and wiggled out of the log. No picture; you're welcome. "Not freaking out" is here defined as "not calling Matt while he was in class"... It was definitely unsettling. I made sure the bug-log was the first one into the fire!

V
Matt is hoping to get out grouse hunting again this weekend, and hopefully moose hunting as well. It's making him a little bit crazy that, despite hunting in an area with such a heavy grouse population that the bag limit is 20 per day, he has yet to see a grouse while within reach of his gun all season. The other day Little Bear and I were over at my mom's house, and they had four grouse running around the yard and eating from their mountain ash tree. I snapped a photo from the window and sent it to Matt, and he wrote back, "I can't see any grouse... as usual :-)" The photo is kind of grainy, taken with my phone through a window with a layer of shrink wrap on the inside and fiberglass on the outside (because triple-pane windows just aren't enough insulation for the winters here), so I've circled the grouse:


VI
"Help Mama cook!"
"Mama mixer, round and round! All done!"
"Bring chair, Little Bear do it, help cook!"
(Holding out a mixing bowl and a fork) "More powder sugar, okay?"

I've had such an enthusiastic kitchen helper all week! Every time I've been cooking, he has been very sure that I need his help. I don't want to discourage him from wanting to help cook, so recently Little Bear has gotten to help me make yemas, rice pudding, squash bake, bran muffins, broccoli-egg strata... I don't remember what all. There's generally a lot more to clean up when he helps, but he's learning and having fun, and I'm having fun cooking with him, too.


VII
And saving the best "take" for last... We are expecting again! We're looking forward to meeting the newest member of the Shifflerhaushalt in the latter part of June 2015. 

I'm a little nervous after losing Alex this spring, but mostly just happy and excited. For the most part I'm feeling well, although I'm definitely feeling the first trimester fatigue again. For blog purposes, as well as our own use until baby is born and named, we are continuing our tradition (now that we've done it three times it's a tradition, right?) of picking small(-ish) animal names: Little Bear, Squirrel (Alex), and now we've begun referring to the new baby as Kit. (As in a baby fox, not as in kitten. My brothers will definitely care about that clarification.)


Have a good weekend!

15 October 2014

Teresa of Avila

Happy feast of Saint Teresa of Avila! This afternoon Little Bear and I attempted to make a traditional treat from Avila called Yemas de Santa Teresa, from the cookbook A Continual Feast, but I don't actually know how they turned out; the tiny bite I snuck as I was making them made me nauseous, and when I offered one to Little Bear after supper he poked it, unhappily waved his now-sticky finger at me, and refused to taste it. Maybe after Matt gets home from class he will try one and tell me if they're any good.


Even if they're awful, I got to practice my rusty candy-making skills and Little Bear had a whole lot of fun with the powdered sugar, so it wasn't a total waste of time. (When the two-year-old asks, "Powdered sugar off?" do not just agree with him from the other side of the kitchen without turning around to see what it is that he wants to get the sugar off of. Super clean floor now.)

I saw this quote from Saint Teresa the other day:

"If I were to give advice, I would say to parents that they ought to be very careful whom they allow to mix with their children when young; for much mischief thence ensues, and our natural inclinations are unto evil rather than unto good."

A good encouragement/reminder/affirmation for parents that while we aren't called to bubblewrap our kids, we do have the responsibility to be actively involved in defining the "circles" our young children closely interact with.


Saint Teresa of Avila, pray for us!

10 October 2014

Seven Quick Takes: Grouse hunting, winter tires and sitting up front

Linking up with Jen at Conversion Diary for Seven Quick Takes!

I
This week was... not as photogenic as last week, I suppose. I don't think I took any photos after the snowy weekend photos that went up on Monday. Little Bear's been a handful, and I haven't been feeling well, so the week has kind of just been blah. Oh! Okay, there was one exciting thing that happened this week; just how exciting it was depends on who you ask...

II
Matt and my dad went out grouse hunting near a lake in an old mining area north of town on Tuesday. Little Bear and I spent the afternoon with my family, and the plan was for us to all have supper together. As they were driving back just before supper time, Matt called to let us know that he'd be a little late because he had to go home and change; he was too messy to come into the house. "What happened?" I asked. "Did you get a grouse?" 

"No..." he started to answer, but my dad quickly interrupted him. "It'll make a great story. Wait until we get there."

Because Matt had to go back home and change, my dad happily took on the role of storyteller as the rest of us sat down for supper. His version of their afternoon:

We were hiking out from Olnes Pond in the direction of the old Vault City mines, looking for grouse, when Matt discovered an old mine shaft. He fell through, landing in watery goopy mud up past his waist. The satellite phone was miles away in the truck. I had to cut down spruce poles and make a ladder with parachute cord for him to climb out. Don't worry, he's fine; maybe a slightly sprained ankle.

III
Matt was very confused when he showed up for supper and everyone was worried about him and asking if he was okay. My dad said, "I told them about the mine shaft," and they both started laughing. Matt's version of their afternoon:

We were hiking near Olnes Pond, going the same direction Ben and I were when we were talking about looking for the remains of old Vault City this summer. There was snow on the trail and a light crust of ice, making everything look smooth and flat, but sometimes it'd start making cracking noises as we walked across it. It's really weird to hear the ground cracking under you; we weren't on a slough or anything. We had just passed a spot where six different trails branched off, maybe ten yards back, when I punched through the surface and landed knee-deep in mud in a rut worn by four-wheelers that the snow had hidden. It turns out my boots really are both waterproof and insulated! I was pretty dirty, but not too wet or cold. Really, I'm fine. I just wish we'd seen a grouse.

Tall-tale hunting stories are an art form in Alaska... but it's reassuring to hear the real story, too. :-) My dad managed to keep a straight enough face to convince my mom and siblings of his version, but I couldn't bring myself to be too worried because Matt had sounded perfectly fine and happy when he called.

IV
I've now done laundry four out of the five weekdays this week, because there was no way the horrid-smelling muddy pond-scummy carharts were going to wait until the next scheduled laundry day. (Laundry normally gets done in the Shifflerhaus on Mondays and Thursdays.) Monday for regular laundry, Wednesday for the carharts and the rest of his hunting clothes, Thursday for regular laundry, and today because there was a very unfortunate leaky diaper incident with the little boy who crawled into our bed in the middle of the night. Sheets, mattress pad, quilt... all getting washed today.

V
Little Bear was very sad about being wet, which wound up meaning that none of us got any sleep after quarter to six. I'm trying to find the silver lining to the "why do I have to be up so early I'm so tired ugh"-ness; since he was awake so early, Little Bear easily went down for a nap at 9:30, so we shouldn't have any trouble making it to noon Mass today. Hopefully he will do as well as he did on Wednesday: 

I was a little nervous about it, but I brought him to an hour of adoration followed by Mass, figuring that I'd probably have to wind up taking him out or just sitting in the cry room. But he was so quiet and well-behaved! He looked at books, played with a Marian bookmark and whispered with my youngest sister during adoration. I moved up to the front pew with him for Mass, which was concelebrated by five priests (so, about 1/3 of all of the priests in our diocese), and he was still and quiet and watching everything all through Mass. I was initially pretty skeptical about the "sit up front so your little kids can see and they'll behave better" theory, but we've really seen results since we started sitting in the first couple of pews.

VI
Driving all the way into and out of town three times in one day is simply too much gas, so I've been saving errands and after Mass we will get as much done as we can before picking Matt up from work. Staying in town all afternoon also uses gas, but given that I need to do these errands anyway, it's not as bad. Today we'll probably spend a while waiting at the tire place; we've been through three Alaskan winters with our all-season radials, and in cooperation with the four wheel drive on the jeep it's been okay, but I was sliding all over on Monday even though I was in 4 and we decided that it would be wise to invest in winter tires this year. The tire shops are all super busy right now so I'm not sure if we will be able to get the tires put on, but at least I can buy them; there's a "buy three get one free" sale that ends tomorrow.

VII

One photo for the week: lounging against the rounder, enjoying homemade yogurt with strawberry jam. That step stool is his favorite place to sit in the kitchen.

06 October 2014

Snow Days


Over the weekend, we jumped from about half an inch of snow tops to a good six inches. As soon as we opened the living room blinds Saturday morning, Little Bear was bouncing with excitement. "Snow! Yay! Little Bear outside, okay? Mama outside, Dada outside, play snow, okay!"

We talked him into waiting until after breakfast, but as soon as he finished he was running back over to the door. "Hat, okay. Mittens, okay. Boots, okay!" Because we now have actual-winter snow, he also got to learn about wearing his puffy, warm, water-resistant coat and snowpants instead of the heavy knit snowsuit he'd been in.

Matt worked on re-splitting the wood in the rack by the house (more on that in a minute) while Little Bear and I ran around in the snow—three wet, sticky inches at that point—and took advantage of the fact that it was right around 32 degrees to pack snowballs and build a snowman and a fort. We can't do that most of the winter; even by today, the snow was too dry and powdery.


Once he figured out how to pack snowballs, Little Bear had fun hiding behind the snow wall (or more often, trying to jump over it) and throwing snowballs. I was hoping to make the wall bigger, because it'll eventually form the foundation of a cave/fort later this winter, but nap time came before we were ready. Our snowman fell over before we remembered to take a photo, but it was as tall as I am!


In the afternoon, we enjoyed the snowy weather from indoors: Matt built a fire in the fireplace, and it stayed lit for hours! The fireplace problem seems to have stemmed from both a) the logs being too big, and b) these fireplaces being temperamental and wanting fires to be built using a certain technique. We're fortunate that my parents have the same model and have figured out its' secrets over the years!

Matt's looking on the bright side of having to re-split three cords of wood: he has to keep splitting kindling throughout the winter anyway, so he'll just split a load of logs every time he has to refill the deck wood rack, and it'll make for good exercise all winter.


By this morning we had reached six inches. According to our landlord, what we pay for with our rent includes having someone come plow the (loooong) driveway. And I'm sure that whoever plows our place has a whole long list of people they plow for, and I should just be patient and wait for them to show up. But I don't know if it'll be hours or days, and I really don't want all six inches pressed down into hardpack before the plow shows up, because then the hardpack will sit there all winter and melt and run straight down into our garage in the spring. So Little Bear and I went out and shoveled for a while, until he got too whiny for "Mama pick you up? Please? Pleeeeaaaase?" We will go back out after nap. I'm not crazy enough to attempt to shovel the whole driveway; it's at least an eighth of a mile, all together. But I do want to at least clear the part that slopes toward the garage door.



03 October 2014

Seven Quick Takes

Normally I'm the worst at taking photos, but I actually used my camera this week! And not just outside! Next step: learning to take good photos... Linking up as usual on this beautiful Friday with Jen & Co over at Conversion Diary.

I
Winter is here.


We've had snow on the ground since Tuesday. Little Bear loves it. I don't really mind, since it's enough to make him happy but not enough to make me shovel, and it's been pretty fun going for walks with him down the snowy road and practicing stomping and making tracks.

II
I haven't been grocery shopping in a week, so meals have been creative "what do I have in the cupboard?" affairs this week. Diced carrots, frozen peas, vegetable broth and a lonely lamb steak left over from Matt and his friend's adventurous cooking on Sunday came together in a pie for Wednesday's supper; I wasn't following any kind of a recipe, so it was a very pleasant surprise to hear how well Matt and Little Bear liked it! 


Thursday's attempt at creativity with a pork-bean-tomato slow cooker soup turned out pretty bland, in my opinion, but Little Bear ate his entire bowl and asked for more. Tonight I think I'm just making refried bean and cheese burritos with cheese and tomato; hopefully I'll make it to the store tomorrow.

III

Little Bear tried to help me with the soup:


I suppose if I'd taken his suggestions, it certainly wouldn't have been bland!

IV
The plan was for me to go to the store today, but now I'm stuck sitting at home all day waiting for the phone to ring. Because yesterday, this happened:


That's the spring/tension rod on the garage ceiling that hauls the door up and down. Somehow a nut worked its way off, and now the thing is hanging from only three points of contact. The tension needs to be reset, which means having a professional out, which means waiting for them to call and tell me they're on their way. I was number 5 on today's list when I checked in with them this morning, but they couldn't give me any kind of estimate on when they'd actually get here. Little Bear and I were planning to go to noon Mass and the Catholic homeschoolers/preschoolers potluck afterward... Maybe we can make it next time.

V
When I walked into the kitchen to dish up supper for Little Bear and myself and saw his ducks in the wok, I had to send Matt a photo; it was just too perfect, because Matt was in Asian cooking class last night.


VI
I'm realizing that most of this week's takes have been awfully food-related... But I guess that makes sense, since most of my everyday is spent cooking or cleaning, and cleaning isn't really photo-worthy. Hopefully not, at least! In other words, yes, the last two photos are food-related, too:


My mom's recipe for puletta di mandorla for the feast of St Francis of Assisi tomorrow. If I miraculously get the rest of my to-do list crossed off, I'm hoping to make some; they're just slightly sweet, the same shape as biscotti but a softer texture... I like the slightly granular texture the ground almonds give the dough, so I'll be using ground instead of chopped.

VII
Yesterday, for the feast of the guardian angels, I was planning to make angel food cupcakes. Then I looked at the recipe— 7 to 12 egg whites! —and remembered that I don't like angel food cake. Little Bear and I made sour cream poundcake cupcakes instead, with homemade yogurt instead of sour cream. Much easier, at least as delicious, and still nearly just as white as angel food cake. 

They cooled on the counter during Little Bear's nap. After nap I brought him into the kitchen while I prepared lunch; I turned around from reheating leftover lamb pie to see him up on the step stool, going down the row of cupcakes taking a bite out of the top of each!


02 October 2014

"Free Play" in today's society

I've been working on this for a week now, off and on, and I just need to hit "publish" because I've been staring at it too long and can't tell if anything makes sense anymore...


This article from Michael J. Lewis at First Things about the long-term negative effects of a lack of free, unstructured play has been circulating recently among moms I know. In general, I found myself agreeing with the author: there are important lessons that kids don't learn, or have to learn as adults, when they don't get enough free play, and over the last couple of generations our culture seems to largely have stopped regarding free play as a necessary part of childhood.

I'm so grateful that my parents had a big yard and felt strongly about sending us all outside every day to play in the yard and in the woods—we made friends with the neighbor kids, played all kinds of disorganized sports, built and razed civilizations in the snow and the mud, the woods and the sandbox and our imaginations. I'm pretty sure I was elected Grand High Zamboni Driver at one point, of a race of woodspeople that was unfortunately abducted to Zorgon by a one-eyed one-armed flying purple people eater before they could build an ice rink. It was tragic. 

When parents' solution to a child saying "I'm bored" is to hand the kid a list of chores, and electronic entertainment isn't an option, kids learn to entertain themselves. The books they read also influence how they learn to entertain themselves. I'm not talking about classic literature, necessarily; we certainly read a lot of that, but I think that the way our games evolved was more heavily influenced by imaginative adventurers like the characters of Brian Jacques' Redwall, Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons, and of course Lewis' Narnia books and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Living in Alaska, with easy access to no-other-people-for-hundreds-of-miles wilderness, epic adventures were not only appealing but possible.

We learned so many skills through coming up with our own entertainment, never realizing it until years later: leadership, cooperation and collaboration, respect, inventiveness, planning ahead, the ability to look at a chore or a pile of junk and turn it into something everyone wanted a part of.

The sort of free, unstructured play, by and large without adult involvement, that Lewis lauds and I grew up with seems like an experience many kids are not getting these days. A "play date" is today's substitution for the good ol' days' free play, but the fact that the parents and not the kids are the instigators and organizers (and that "organization" is really even involved) makes it a poor substitution indeed, Lewis argues. I'm not sure I'm convinced that his description of typical play dates isn't a caricature—there most likely are parents who run play dates by dictating what games are played and providing constant policing, but surely it's not the norm? I don't know. If I meet a friend at a park to let our kids play, we mostly just stand and talk, not getting involved in little 2-year-old bickering unless someone is legitimately in danger.

Lewis' piece ended unsatisfactorily, though, expounding on the problem of a lack of unsupervised play and young people's resultant inability to handle risk, but not attempting to offer a resolution other than the easily inferred "It was better the way it was back then, so modern parents should start giving their kids the freedom ours gave us." (To be fair, those are my words not his; he could have intended that a different conclusion be drawn and I missed it.) I think, though, that this solution misses a major reason that parents don't let their children roam the neighborhood anymore the way my parents' generation was able to as kids: it isn't safe. Parents in the 1950s and 60s didn't have the same level of (legitimate) concern that many parents today do about some evil person stealing their children. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the FBI's National Crime Information Center registered reports of 462,567 missing children in 2013. Even in neighborhoods where parents have confidence in their kids' safety, giving their children the level of freedom the author talks about is likely to get the police and Child Protective Serivices called and their children potentially taken away—as Lewis pointed out, a South Carolina mother was arrested this summer for allowing her daughter to play unsupervised.

Perhaps the problem is partly one of shifting population densities. Mayberry probably doesn't exist anywhere anymore, but small rural towns have wildly different interpersonal dynamics than big cities, and maybe parents still feel free to give their kids more autonomy in such towns. In rural areas like where we live in Alaska, at least in families who live a part- to full-subsistence lifestyle, the portrait Lewis paints of modern parenting is incomprehensible. Mom and Dad don't have time to helicopter parent when they are splitting wood for the fire, hunting and fishing and gathering wild berries and putting up garden vegetables for the winter. Think Little House on the Prairie, but with electricity and indoor plumbing. The kids help out, and they find their own entertainment if they don't want to get more chores because they are underfoot!

So what solution am I offering, if I complain about Lewis' lack of one? Other than moving to a rural area, which clearly isn't any more practical for most people than just snapping our fingers and returning to Mayberrian society. I don't know. The urban social environment today doesn't seem able to foster the kind of unsupervised play that teaches kids these life lessons. It's easy for me to look at our particular circumstances, our environment, and say "this is why we're never leaving Alaska!" But that's not actually helpful to parents in more urban places. 

Awareness of the need for unsupervised play, in whatever level your kids can achieve where you are, is probably the first step: resisting the urge to step in, make decisions and resolve conflicts for them unless adult involvement is truly necessary, and reevaluating what "truly necessary" means with different children and at different ages. How else will our kids learn to solve their own problems, to develop their abilities to lead and invent and negotiate? It can be hard! As parents, we want our kids to be happy. But what we really want is what's best for them, and that means giving them ample opportunity to make their own choices and mistakes, and to grow from them.

30 September 2014

What month is it, again?


I thought it was September. Maybe my calendar is wrong.

Snow? Today? It could have waited one more day, and then I wouldn't have anything legitimate to complain about because it's supposed to snow in October. But snow on the ground, sitting there not melting as more and more continues to fall? Not supposed to happen in September. I took that photo before breakfast this morning; by now, you certainly can't see any evidence that we were running around on the driveway:


Not exactly shoveling-the-driveway accumulation yet, so I really don't have anything to complain about. Snow today or tomorrow, it wouldn't be any warmer.  And white snow is prettier than dead brown leaves and grass. I'm not super unhappy about it; I'm just annoyed with the snow as a matter of principle. 

Little Bear was really excited to be running around in the snow this morning, which is good; he's going to be doing a whole lot of that between now and next May! It's possible that this will melt, but it may just stick around and become the bottom layer of our hardpack. The ponds we pass heading in and out of town held onto their layer of ice all day long yesterday, so we may have entered the "always and forever cold". 

Maybe I wasn't quite ready for that to happen yet, but it has it's own perks: being able to say because there's snow on the ground! when Little Bear doesn't want to wear mittens; not worrying about having the afternoon suddenly warm up when I've made a pot of soup for supper; enjoying fires in the fireplace... whenever we get that working. Matt's learning an awful lot about fireplace mechanics as we try to figure out why our fires won't stay lit!