19 July 2015

Answer Me This

And we're back! With What I Wore Sunday and more Answer Me This fun, and wow, there are some great questions this week. Here we go:

1. What's currently on your To Do list?

I love To Do lists. No, really. Now that I'm capable of being up and doing for longer periods of time, having a great long list inspires and energizes me. But I knocked a ton of things off the list between Friday and yesterday, so my To Do list is actually pretty short at the moment:

- make menu for the week
- make grocery list
- figure out Amazon Subscribe & Save
- look into the Sam's Club Insider program, Ibotta, other grocery-savings programs
- clean bathtub & sink drains
- change sheets
- bake sandwich bread
- go through pre-baby shirts and donate everything that's never going to fit again

Blueberry picking this afternoon was on the list, but it's 50 degrees and raining out, so that's not happening. I hope I can get some berries before they're gone! I really can't take both kids without another adult to help, and this weekend was likely our last chance for Matt to come; we've been seeing cars off on the shoulder where people are picking for at least a week now. Hopefully I can talk one of my siblings into coming with us one afternoon this week.

2. Better type of superhero: magic/radioactive powers? Or trauma/gadgets/hard work?

Trauma/gadgets/hard work, because they're real people. Superheroes in this category are extraordinary individuals, but they are still fundamentally the same as us: they achieve greatness through blood, sweat and tears, not through some mythical serum that we mortals have no hope of accessing. As such, they are more able to inspire people, and their stories can be used to teach your kids about hard work and persistence rather than avoiding radioactive spiders.

Superheroes whose powers come from magic/radiation or are an intrinsic part of their nature can often do pretty incredible things, but their ability to inspire isn't the same, because we could never hope to do what they are capable of.

"You realize you're saying Iron Man is more inspirational than Captain America, right?" Matt just asked. But... Maybe not exactly? Like the laws of physics, many clear-cut categorizations become blurry when applied to actual superheroes. Captain America does have a radiation-enhanced body, but he's just strong and fast, not invincible, and Cap has to train hard to maintain his strength. So I think I can justify putting him partially in the "hard work" category too.

3. Finding out if baby is a boy or a girl before birth: Good idea? Bad idea?

Neutral. I choose to find out, but then I refuse to completely trust the ultrasound because it could be wrong. So far it's always been correct with our kids, but I anticipate continuing to have at least a kernel of "maybe it's wrong" with any future kids. Why do I even find out, then? I don't know. Because I want to know, and I want to feel that I'm most likely using the correct pronoun for baby, and being able to say "Most likely a girl" when everyone asks usually helps me avoid being harassed by both the "why didn't you find out?!?" people and the "well, but ultrasounds can be wrong..." people.

4. Have you ever appeared on a stadium jumbotron?

Nope, and I have no desire to.

5. Are you more book smart or more street smart?

What does it say about me that I had to go and look up those terms? It seems like many people have different definitions of "street smart" and "book smart," so I feel a little more justified in not knowing how to answer. I took three quizzes; two said emphatically that I'm street smart, one (equally emphatically) that I'm book smart... The latter seemed to equate "book smart" to "educated/well-read," which is true of me; the other two seemed to define the street v. book dichotomy as being able to figure things out for yourself and take care of yourself v. being lost in situations where you can't look up what to do. So by their definition, yes, I'd agree with "street" over "book." 

According to Matt, I'm not so much "street smart" as "Alaska smart;" able to figure things out and take care of myself and others, specifically in outdoors/winter/uniquely Alaskan situations. Drop me on a street in the middle of the city in the Lower 48 and I would likely be okay, but I'd be very uncomfortably out of my element; ask me to make a winter camping trip happen or live in a wood-heated house where we have to haul water, and we're just fine.

6. Have you had that baby yet? (Feel free to skip this one if it's not applicable to you.)

She's one month old as of Friday! It's hard to believe it has already been a month, but at the same time, it's hard to picture life without her.

A picture, and it's Sunday! I get to cheat and link this post up twice.

Kit: dress by Carter's, from my grandmother
Little Bear: outfit by Carter's, from his grandmom & grandpop
Me: dress by Liz Lange Maternity, sweater by Boden, both thrifted

Kit continued her streak of sleeping straight through Mass; Little Bear had more trouble being still and quiet, but shaped up before he lost his after-Mass chocolate donut.

Have a good week!

18 July 2015

Feast of St Arnulf

"From man's sweat and God's love, beer came into the world." - St Arnulf of Metz

I love being Catholic. For lots of reasons, of course, and many of them more important than this one, but we do have us some pretty great stories.

St Arnulf was born into the Frankish nobility in the late 500s, and had a distinguished career as a military commander and civil servant under several Frankish kings. He married a noblewoman named Doda, who gave him two sons and later became a nun. Arnulf wished to become a monk but was appointed bishop of Metz, capital of Austrasia (modern-day Luxembourg with bits of Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands), around 611 AD at the request of Chlothachar II, who had a high regard for Arnulf's administrative skills. Bishop Arnulf was much beloved by his people, using his office as both bishop and adviser to the king to promote justice and protect the rights of the poor. Toward the end of his life, Arnulf retired to Remiremont Abbey in the Vosges Mountains, where he spent his last years as a monk.

After Arnulf had died around 645 AD at Remiremont, a delegation from Metz retrieved his remains so that they could bury him in the basilica. Legend tells that the delegation encountered very hot weather as they traveled, and did not have enough to drink. One member of the party pronounced his faith that "Blessed Arnulf" would provide what they needed, and immediately the empty jug of beer was miraculously replenished, remaining full until they reached Metz.

Thus, patron saint of beer and brewers.

Well, how could we let the feast day of the patron saint of beer go to waste? Beer didn't exactly go with the chicken, mashed potatoes and carrots I was planning to make, but providentially, just as we were discussing this Matt got a message from a friend asking if he'd like to get a beer together and catch up. Clearly, it was meant to be; he headed off to the brewery, and I made a much simpler supper of salmon noodle casserole. Beer wasn't a good fit with that, either, but it didn't really matter because Kit wanted to nurse again soon enough that I couldn't have fed her if I'd had anything. His feast day is already marked on the calendar for next year, though!

St. Arnulf, pray for us!

17 July 2015

Seven Quick Takes

Oops... I did a good job of posting last week, but this week, not so much. My first full week of being outnumbered by kids all day; it was hard to find time for anything! But I'm going to make Seven Quick Takes happen, at least.

Kit was baptized on Sunday! She was very good and quiet, sleeping through pretty much the whole Mass. Little Bear got to sit with Grandma and Papa, so he was happy and well-behaved too. All of my siblings were able to be here for her baptism, which was wonderful! And I still haven't managed to get photos from my mom, but hopefully we got one showing our parish's baptismal font; it is beautiful, and had not been used in baptisms for many years, but a family friend just finished restoring it and Kit was the first baby to be baptized in it after the restoration!

"Time" has been a slightly fuzzy concept for me since she was born, and the baptism date definitely snuck up on me; I was very grateful to have the baptismal gown I'd found when I was pregnant with Alex already hanging in the back of the closet. 

Our girl is one month old today! She's obviously still very small compared to her 3yo brother, but my default adjective for her is quickly becoming "big" instead of "little." Kit has gained three pounds in the past four weeks; she's over ten pounds now. She certainly doesn't look like a tiny newborn to me anymore.

We thought we were done with car excitement for a while, after last week's replacement of axles and ball joints and tires and brake pads and I don't know what all. We... were wrong.

Tuesday morning, the kids and I were all in the car with Matt, on our way to drop him off at work before an errand-filled day, when the car just stopped. No lights on the dash were on, the gas gauge still said we had gas, the battery was working fine (although it too died after we tried unsuccessfully to start the car a couple of times). We live way out of town, so there was no other traffic and it wasn't a problem to just drift the car over and onto the shoulder, and my parents came out to rescue us; Mom brought me and the kids back to their house while Dad and Matt looked at the engine and pulled out the jumper cables.

They couldn't get it going, so Matt called our mechanic who said he'd send their tow truck and he would look at it that day, but probably wouldn't be able to fix it until the next morning. Then he caught a ride to work while I figured out a rental car for the next day or two. Late that afternoon we got a call from the mechanic: they put five gallons of gas in it, charged up the battery, and it started just fine. The floater in our fuel tank had gotten stuck, throwing off the gauge, and we'd run out of gas. "Don't trust that gauge anymore!" the mechanic reminded me twice in the three minutes I was in the office paying the bill. Yes, we feel ridiculous, having the car towed all the way into town for that! Dare I say that hopefully now we're done with car shenanigans for a while?

Public Service Announcement: diaper rash that isn't caused by an infection but is not responding to zinc oxide ointments (Desitin, etc), sometimes responds well to Bag Balm, of all things. I grew up using it on chapped and dry skin, but never would have thought of it for diaper rash if the midwife hadn't suggested it.

Today was by far the most productive AND least frustrating day I've had all week. It was also the only day I didn't have the car (i.e. bring Matt to/from work and run errands). Coincidence? Maybe... Every day previous, I was staring at the clock willing it to be time to go pick Matt up by 3 o'clock, and today hearing the garage door open when he got home took me by surprise. Kit napped on the couch for a good chunk of the morning, which definitely helped: Little Bear and I made chocolate zucchini bread and muffins, as well as a loaf of sandwich bread, while she slept. We dusted and vacuumed, paid bills, wiped down the bathroom, cut both kids' nails, packed up an Amazon return, spent time with Little Bear doing school, and made lists of errands to run and groceries to pick up tomorrow.

It seems like, from the super limited evidence of this one day that went well, so don't hold me to this, but it seems like my being both mentally prepared to do a lot of things today and being physically able to start working on my list right away made the difference. I am so much less stressed tonight than I have been, and part of that is certainly that it's the weekend and Matt will be home to help with kids, but it's also the having a clean house and knowing that I got a slew of things knocked off my list.

Anyone have experience using Amazon Subscribe & Save? What kind of things do you use it for? Is it worth it? I've heard of people using it for diapers, and now that we have two kids in diapers, if it actually is a good deal I want to start using it, but you have to order at least five things to get the discount, right? Help me out here. :-)

Because I can't think of anything else, another question: what are some good books or quiet religious toys that would be good for helping toddlers through preschoolers be still and quiet during Mass, ideally helping older ones to pay attention or follow along? A friend and I are looking into the possibility of making bags of quiet things for our parish that would be available for families with little ones to borrow during Mass, and I'd love more ideas of what we could include in them.

Bedtime for Mama and Kit... Have a good weekend! You can find more quick takes at This Ain't The Lyceum.

12 July 2015

Answer Me This

Another summer Sunday, another round of Answer Me This fun over at Catholic All Year!

1. At what temperature do you keep the thermostat set? Summer, winter, day, night?

I turned the thermostat off in May, and it won't be turned back on until we're getting frost warnings overnight, probably by mid-September. There's no central a/c, so the apartment can get hot... With the unusually miserable combination of hot weather and heavy smoke from forest fires we've been dealing with these past few weeks, we finally gave in and got a portable a/c unit. On days that we can't open doors and windows to cool down, we've been turning it on for a couple of hours to bring the apartment down to 75; nights the bedrooms can get up to 80, hopefully not any warmer.

Last winter we kept the thermostat set to 65 in the bedrooms, 60 in the rest of the apartment. Burning a fire in the morning and evening, or keeping it going all day when it was really cold out, usually kept the living room/kitchen area closer to 75, which is verging on too warm for our taste; you don't have quite the level of ambient temperature control with a fireplace that you do with a thermostat, though! Often, the residual heat from the fireplace would be enough that the heat wouldn't have to kick on all night, and we went days at a time in warmer weather without burning any heating oil.

2. What is your favorite frozen beverage?

A vanilla milkshake, no whipped cream or cherry.

3. Where do you keep your keys?

Usually in Matt's pocket. On days I have the car, they're probably near the door or on the kitchen table.

4. Have you ever really been lost?

Once, when Matt and I were dating, we were heading back to his parents' house from visiting friends in the DC area. Matt was driving, I was navigating—this was before we had phones with GPS capabilities, so I had a full-size laptop open on my lap running a map program to figure out where we were supposed to be going. We got a later start than we'd planned, having taken a detour to drop some other friends off at the metro, and it was already dark. Matt merged onto the beltway, and we started looking for our exit: Exit 200-something, according to the program, and it was coming up in just over a mile. The first exit we saw was Exit 2. They'd renumbered the exits! It took forever to find a way to get turned around and figure out which exit we were supposed to be taking.

5. What is the last movie you saw in the theaters?

The Avengers, the first one. Not a bad movie to have as the last I'll ever see in theater; I have binocular instability, which means that each eye tries to present my brain with an image on its own rather than cooperating to create the image together, so both eyes individually are constantly refocusing. In day-to-day life it just means that I get headaches often and tend to see an extra outline of objects, and trying to look at things that are too close to my face can be painful, but it has gotten just worse enough since having kids that I cannot handle watching movies on the big screen anymore. I miss it, though, and when Guardians of the Galaxy was in theaters last year I decided that surely my vision wasn't really all that bad and we should give it another shot; I lasted maybe five minutes into the movie and felt so sick we had to leave.

But like I said, the first Avengers movie was not at all a bad last movie to see in theater. We went opening weekend for my birthday while I was pregnant with Little Bear.

And now, I'm off to wake people up and get them ready for Kit's baptism this morning. Say a prayer for us that Little Bear and Kit both cooperate all through Mass today? Thanks! Hopefully later today or tomorrow I'll be back with pictures!

11 July 2015

Seven Quick Takes

No smoke for three days now! Two days ago it was overcast, but yesterday and today the sky has been the clearest, brightest blue I've seen in at least a month. Alleluia! I am so grateful to be able to take the kids outside or leave all of the windows open to cool down the house without worrying about the air quality. We ate supper on the deck Thursday night, one of the first times we've done so all summer, and it was just lovely out.

All of my siblings are in town right now, and we had the whole family (plus my brother's friend who is up for the summer) over for supper Thursday. Matt grilled chicken sausages and beer brats, I baked a double batch of buns, and we all enjoyed a picnic-y meal of pasta salad, green salad, coleslaw, and my sister's individual strawberry shortcakes. Since they were all out of town on the 4th and Little Bear's birthday, it was good to have everyone over for an overdue cookout.

I always think it's going to be too much work to have the whole family over (I have six younger siblings), and it does take work to prepare the food and clean the house, but I have never ever regretted inviting them (or anyone else). Learning to extend hospitality to others in a way that's genuinely oriented toward making them feel welcome and comfortable, rather than making me stressed about my house and my cooking and my kids and how others perceive me, has been difficult but so good for me. And we all enjoy having company, so this learning to let go of having everything "perfect" has been a blessing.

Yesterday morning, Little Bear and I made The Pioneer Woman's Everything Cookies while Kit napped. Now I'm pretty much constitutionally incapable of following a recipe ad litteram, so we did make a couple of adjustments; my current batch of homemade granola is full of almonds, pecans, cashews, and sunflower seeds, so I didn't add any nuts when they were called for later in the recipe. We don't have dried cherries, but do have both flame and golden raisins along with the called-for dried apricots. And of course I couldn't help making half of the flour whole wheat. They are really good, though! And as her last instruction directs, I'm definitely going to "eat and feel not guilty" because they really are full of good things.

One of the best things about Matt's job at the university is the benefits package: he was able to take three full weeks of paternity leave to stay home as we all adjusted to having Kit, remembering what it's like to have a baby in the house and figuring out for the first time how to parent two kids at once. Thursday was his last day of leave, so he was back in the office Friday (thus, my Seven Quick Takes going up on Saturday...). It would be ridiculous to pretend that we've actually figured everything out already, but the first day of having both Kit and Little Bear all to myself certainly didn't go as badly as I'd half expected it to. 

Okay, there is one thing I definitely haven't figured out doing outnumbered yet: errands. Going to the grocery store is fine, and I've taken both kids with me several times already, but there are a few things that have been sitting on my to-do list for a solid week now which I would have taken care of the first day if I had only Little Bear in tow: picking up a package at the post office, dropping some things off at the consignment shop, trading in some books for credit at the used bookstore, going through the thirft store to try to find some shirts that actually fit and will let me feed Kit... All of those errands together would have been a tiring but manageable trip to town with Little Bear; with him and Kit, wrangling them both through even one of those sounds overwhelming-to-impossible.

Tummy time today quickly turned into Daddy and Little Bear racing hotwheels cars while Kit watched and squawked at them. I love seeing Matt playing with the kids, and Little Bear excited about interacting with his little sister.

Seven Quick Takes is hosted this week at A Knotted Life; don't forget to stop on by!

07 July 2015

Coloring the sky

"If you took chalk and colored over the sky, this is what it'd look like." Matt, looking out the window this morning.

The smoke is heavy today, like squinting into a fogged-up mirror after a shower. Our air quality index jumped up to Hazardous, the highest designation on the scale, and we're definitely feeling it. I would have vastly preferred to keep everyone at home with the house closed up, but we had an important meeting in town this afternoon that couldn't be rescheduled, and had to take the kids with us; Matt carried Little Bear and I carried Kit, and we covered their faces and hurried between truck and buildings as quickly as possible. We put off all of our other errands, hoping that the smoke dissipates by tomorrow afternoon... They're saying it's possible. I find it hard to believe, looking out the window now, but most of the smoke blew in overnight so I suppose it could all leave overnight again. We can pray it does!

There are quite a few fires close enough to be sending smoke our way, though not nearly close enough for us to be concerned. With 3.1 million acres burned across the state so far this year, we're on track to tie or surpass our worst fire season on record: 6.6 million acres burned in 2004. We've already passed the 2009 record of 2.9 million acres, a fire season I vividly remember; several large  fires were close enough to town that we had duffles packed in case an evacuation order went out, and the smoke was so thick that our hands and faces were dirty after biking to or from work. We joked that we now lived in Mordor, but half the time it didn't really feel like we were joking. Hopefully we don't come to that this year!

06 July 2015

Cherry Pie

I didn't grow up with cherry pie; we were engaged when I first learned that Matt liked it, and my first thought was "but cherry pie filling is so horribly sweet!" He quickly set me straight—he wanted a pie made from sour cherries, not from a can. I've never seen any cherry varieties other than Bing and Rainer in local produce sections, though, and he was very sure that sweet cherries weren't right. His mother sent us some from Pennsylvania, I think that first summer we were married, and I made a pie once and wrote down the recipe and never had the chance to try it again.

About a month ago, I was in the ethnic foods aisle looking for sauerkraut when I noticed a jar of cherries on the bottom shelf. Sour cherries. They came home with me and hid in the top of a cupboard until July 4, when I pulled them out to make Matt his pie. I didn't make enough pie crust, so the filling kind of bubbled up and over and made a mess, but it sure tasted good!

Cherry Pie

3 cups sour cherries, pitted, in juice (or light syrup)
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
A double pie crust

Pour cherries and juice into a pot and bring to a simmer. In a small bowl, combine sugar and cornstarch. Whisk mixture into cherries and cook until thickened, stirring often. Press lower crust into an 8" or 9" pie plate and fill with pie filling (I had a little left over, so watch as you're pouring it in!) Top with upper crust; if using a solid crust instead of weaving a lattice, cut several slits in the top for steam to escape. Set pie plate on top of a baking sheet before putting it in the oven in case it bubbles over. Bake at 375 degrees for about 50 minutes.

Sweet, but with a pleasant tartness to it. It was good all by itself, or warned and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

Note: do not assume that just because you're using an 8" pie plate instead of a 9", a single pie crust recipe will make enough that you can piece together a lattice from the scraps. It won't.