06 January 2017

On the last day of Christmas...

Happy Epiphany! Today I thought we were having a fancy pull-out-the-china dinner with friends to celebrate the magi's arrival, but I have a toddler with the stomach flu instead. C'est la parenthood. She's not completely miserable, and no one else has it yet, so how about I take advantage of not making a big meal this afternoon to do a little Christmas/year-end recap?


Matt and Little Bear picked a beautiful white spruce this year! Strong, straight branches, even spacing, and a spread of more than 6'... It's one of the best I've ever seen. The menfolk went out tree-hunting on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and we got the lights and angel on that evening, but then we waited until the following morning for the kids to help me hang the ornaments. Little Bear was very helpful; Kit was very protective of whatever ornaments she picked up, and suspicious of our strange desire to hang them on a tree. She has done a wonderful job of not trying to touch the tree since we finished decorating it, though!

By a fluke of calendaring, Christmas Day wound up being the day that we were supposed to try Kit with cow's milk dairy again. She had been doing fine with A2 milk for two weeks—did I ever write about the technical protein stuff? I don't think so. Maybe another day—anyway, we were due to test and see whether she could handle regular cow's milk again, so I told my mom not to worry about trying to make dairy-free versions of things for Christmas dinner, Kit and I would eat what everyone else ate and we'd see what happened. And she's outgrown her casein allergy! It appears that she's still somewhat sensitive, in that she has some trouble if she's had a lot of it at once, so for now we are letting her (and me!) have baked items with dairy in them, small amounts of cheese, as much yogurt as either of us wants, but we're not having straight milk (which is relatively rare in our house anyway).


"Mouth!" she informed me brightly, when I caught her with my lip gloss.

Little Bear won a Christmas coloring contest hosted by ABCatholic.com, and they sent him this nativity playset! The kids have been having so much fun with it ever since it got here, and I'm very impressed with the quality and detail of the plastic figurines. Kit is constantly putting the baby Jesus in the manger on the coffee table, running over to hug me and exclaim "Baby Jesus! Sleeping! Coffee table!" and running back over to readjust him so she can come tell me again. 


Little Bear's winning coloring page:


Christmas Eve the kids and I were busy baking stöllen and crescent rolls, and were very grateful for the woodstove's help making all of the dough rise. Little Bear was very helpful, rolling out the dough for both and helping me shape the crescent rolls.


I have no actual Christmas Day pictures, because as you've doubtless noticed, all of the photos my phone takes are blurry... Something to do with the autofocus, which is a warranty repair, but we bought this one used so there's no warranty. So Matt took the Christmas morning photos, and they're still on his phone. We did have a lovely day, though; we attended the children's vigil Mass on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas morning the kids slept until nearly 8 o'clock! We spent the morning at home, then went to my parents' house midday for dinner and presents there, and were back home in time for Kit to take a late nap. Peaceful: it was a peaceful Christmas.

Ha! Now I remember why it wasn't entirely peaceful: our furnace stopped working as we were heading out the door to Christmas Eve Mass! There wasn't anything we could do about it until the day after Christmas, since we didn't want to pay holiday call-out fees, but the woodstove kept the upstairs warm just fine and we plugged in electric heaters in the garage and downstairs so that we didn't have pipes freezing on us. (That happened the week before; didn't need to deal with that twice!) The repairman who came out Monday was great, though; he taught Matt a lot about how our particular furnace works, and what Matt can try on his own next time this happens.

We were bracing for a big storm a couple of days after Christmas, up to 18" of snow and 55 mph wind gusts, and I suppose that we did get both of those things, but we never lost power like we'd expected to. Folks near us did, and in a similar storm last winter people in this area were without power for a full week, but we only saw the lights flicker a couple of times. We did have an awful lot of snow to clear, and Matt did a heroic amount of the shoveling and snow blowing himself, since Kit and I both had quite the headcolds. Fortunately Matt had more than a week off work for Christmas/New Years (yay, working for a school!), so he was home when we got all of the ridiculous snow.


And I couldn't very well wrap up this Christmas season without mentioning music; our house has been full of it these past twelve days! Instead of toys, we gave each kid an instrument this year—a ukulele for Little Bear, and a pentatonic scale of chimes laid out hammer dulcimer-style for Kit (and the whole family). Little Bear is playing it in the photo with the Christmas tree. I am happy that they're both so excited about making music, especially Little Bear, but goodness the house has been getting loud these days! We've almost mastered the "no music while Mom is on the phone" rule, and Little Bear is doing a pretty good job of remembering not to play while anyone is sleeping, so I can handle it the rest of the time.

Well, instead of a fancy dinner tonight, the non-stomach-bugged members of the family shared a super vegetable pizza that Matt and Little Bear picked up in town. Mmm, pizza with cheese on it for the first time in more than a year! We laughed that it was still appropriate for Epiphany, because they had to travel a long way to get it and bring it home. Though if we had the ability to get Middle Eastern takeout in town, that would have been even better!

13 December 2016

St Lucy Buns {dairy-free}

A year ago, I was still coming to grips with Kit being allergic to casein. Our traditional Advent and Christmas baking is chock full of butter, milk, cream cheese, sour cream... and because I was feeling overwhelmed, and most of the few Christmas treats that I did try to adapt to be dairy-free turned out poorly, I more or less stopped trying.

Well, we're still dairy-free around here, but with a year's experience in baking without butter et al, I am ready to tackle all the Christmas things! Well, most of them. The ones that are supposed to taste like butter can wait another year.

I was sad to miss out on St Lucy Buns last year, but with milk, butter, AND sour cream, there was no way I was going to attempt to muddle through them. I was still a little bit nervous last night, waiting and hoping they'd turn out as my dough oh-so-slowly rose, but they are perfect. Light, tender, melt-in-your-mouth rich... Mmmm. :-) So glad to be able to celebrate St Lucy's feast day with these treats from my Nordic roots!



St Lucy Buns/Lussekatter {dairy-free}

3/4 cup milk of choice (I used almondmilk)
pinch of saffron threads
1 teaspoon + 1/4 cup white sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons nondairy "butter" (I used Earth Balance soy-free)
1/4 cup nondairy plain yogurt (I used coconutmilk yogurt)
2 large eggs + 1 for egg wash
raisins

Combine milk, saffron, and 1 teaspoon sugar. Heat to 115 degrees F, and stir to dissolve sugar. Stir in yeast and set in a warm place until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes.


In a mixing bowl, whisk together the remaining sugar, 3 1/2 cups flour, and salt. Make a well in the middle and add the milk mixture, 2 eggs, diced "butter", and yogurt. Combine thoroughly. Knead dough, adding flour a tablespoon at a time as needed until dough is still tacky but doesn't stick all over your hands when you touch it. Shape into a ball and set in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap, to rise.

When dough has doubled, divide into 12 equal balls. Roll into snakes and shape into tight Ss. Lay out on a parchment-lined sheet pan and cover with plastic wrap to rise until doubled, about half an hour. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.


Beat an egg and brush over the Ss. Stick raisins into S curls. Bake 9 to 10 minutes, turning pan 180 degrees after 4 minutes. Remove from parchment to a wire rack to cool. Enjoy!


Notes:
If you aren't dairy-free, the recipe works equally well with cow's milk, butter, and plain yogurt or sour cream.
Coconut oil works in place of the fake butter, but only use 3.5 tablespoons instead of 4.

06 December 2016

Happy feast of St Nicholas!

Today we were hit with my first taste of the "Christmas crazies," with the kids excited far beyond my expectations over the appearance of two playmobil guys and a handful of chocolate gold coins in their shoes. Kit couldn't even eat the chocolate (I couldn't find any that were dairy-free), and she was still just as giddy as her big brother!

We had a fun day, though, and I'm pretty confident (hopeful?) that everyone will be a little calmer tomorrow. We read Mary's Little Donkey this morning, our first Christmas-related book of the year; I hadn't planned on pulling any Christmas books out until Gaudete Sunday, but this one is more about the friendship between Mary and the animals, and then the journey to Bethlehem, rather than focusing most of the storytelling on Christmas Day itself, so it seemed appropriate for Advent. I wish we had a good picture book about St. Nicholas, though; we don't have any stories about him at all, so I told the kids his legend in the car on the way home from the grocery store this morning, but if anyone has any suggestions I'd love to find something to read to them next year!

Who knew that Playmobil made a St Nicholas figure? I found a two-pack at our local toy store of St Nicholas and an angel, which the kids had so. much. fun. playing with today. Kit kept taking "Nichonah"s miter off and bringing it to me to "fix? fix?" Late yesterday evening I got sucked into the time-wasting vortex of exploring Playmobil offerings on Amazon, curious as to whether they had other religious-themed models, and discovered that they actually made a set of St Martin and a beggar, with his horse and his sword and the cloak to cut in half and everything! But apparently it was a very limited release in Germany in 2006, and you can't find any on the internet anywhere anymore. Oh well. The kids are more than happy with what they have!

Our vinyl Shining Light St Nicholas doll, a gift several years ago from my mother-in-law's friend, also made his annual appearance today: I didn't have anything for the adult shoes, but Little Bear was sure that we needed to set our shoes out last night too, so he showed up in Matt's shoe and the informational card about him was in mine this morning. Kit was very happy that there were two "Nichonah"s, dancing them around together, and even carried the Shining Light version with her for her nap. Both St Nicholas's and the angel will hang around, probably popping in and out of nativity scenes, through Epiphany.

I'm not terribly "arts-n-crafts-y," but my sister sent me instructions for candy cane crosiers about a month ago, and I'd been looking forward to trying them for the feast of St Nicholas ever since. After Kit woke up from her nap, she and Little Bear helped me remember how hard it is to unwrap candy canes without breaking them... We finally had enough come out in one piece, though, and they turned out so well! The soft-not-quite-melted candy was hot, though--shocking, I know--so Little Bear couldn't actually help me shape the crosiers, and I was blowing on my fingertips for a while after doing each one. Maybe by next year I'll think of a way that he can help at least a little bit.



How did you celebrate St Nicholas' day?

26 November 2016

A list of lists

After talking about my tendency to organize—possibly over-organize—earlier this week, I have a list for you! A list of lists, actually. It's just about Advent in most of the world by now, though we have several hours left here; whether you're hurrying to finish up Christmas shopping before settling into Advent or just beginning to think about gifts, here are a bunch of ideas compiled by a few of my favorite bloggers. Some even have coupon codes available, so check them out!

Round Up of Homemade Holiday Gifts from Whole Parenting Family

Kathryn's Favorite Things: A Religious Shopping Guide from Team Whitaker

Catholics on Etsy! and Catholics on Etsy, Part 2! from Simcha Fisher

The 2016 Carrots Christmas Gift Guide from Carrots for Michaelmas

And apparently The Catholic Wife will have a two-part Catholic gift guide coming up here as well, so check her page starting December 1 for that!


Wishing you a wonderful (and organized!) start to your Advent.

19 November 2016

Organizing

The new liturgical year begins next Sunday, the new calendar year a month later; especially with everything that's going on over the next month-plus, it's a logical time to be thinking about schedules, planners, and the like. Kelly Mantoan of This Ain't The Lyceum had a great post this past week on finding the planner that's right for you individually, and it set me thinking about my own organization system. I'm very much a "list person," to the point that it's pretty much guaranteed that before the middle of this week, I'll have written out a list of the lists that I need to make to organize these busy weeks leading up to Christmas.

So my approach definitely won't be for everyone! It's working well for me at this point, though, so I wanted to share in case it might help someone else.

First, there's the planner. I use the Catholic Daily Planner to keep track of feast days, birthdays and anniversaries, appointments, and anything scheduled to happen at a set time. Every weekend, I go through and plan the supper menu for the coming week, jotting that down in the margins of each day and making notes where needed of things that have to start thawing a day early, be pre-cooked, etc.


Then there's the lesson plan book. Preschool doesn't require all that much lesson-planning, but since we are using individual books and not an all-in-one curriculum, I do go through each weekend and write out what we'll be doing each day in handwriting, religion, math and reading, plus any extras (science, geography, history, art...) At this stage, I'm not writing in times for each subject, lunch only happening after X is done, etc, because he's just 4; it's great that he wants to do school and he's learning so much, but I still firmly believe that at this age, laying a foundation of enjoying school is more important than getting through as much material as possible. We do get through everything written down almost every day, but if he's busy helping me with laundry or baking and we don't get around to finishing, I don't mind moving lessons around to other days and/or condensing them, especially since I know he's capable of doing more than I assign per day.


And the most-used organizer of my week: the list book! It's just a thick 8"x10" college-ruled notebook, big enough to hold a lot of words per page, but not too big to put in my purse. Daily and running to-do lists, lists of errands, the grocery list, the aforementioned list of lists... I'd be lost without it, that's for sure.


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What do you use to keep yourself organized? 

31 October 2016

Celebrating Hallowtide

Happy Hallowe'en, y'all! Since this week is full up with holidays and holy days, Little Bear and I are taking a break from our regular religion curriculum to talk about Hallowtide, Halloween, saints, purgatory, et al. And I wanted to hear what kind of traditions or plans you have, too; I'm kind of throwing things together haphazardly here, since this cold has made it hard for me to get ahead on planning things out, so more ideas would be welcome!

Today we looked at the calendar to see that All Saints, or All Hallows', is tomorrow, and then talked about how when we start celebrating something the evening beforehand we call it the "eve." So one thing we can remember on this eve of All Saints is that God has conquered death, and that as we celebrate the saints tomorrow and pray for the souls in purgatory the next day, we are glad and grateful that Jesus made it so that we can one day be with Him in heaven. So some people might have scary decorations or costumes, but they remind us that with God, there's nothing we have to be afraid of.

But mostly, Halloween is an American holiday about having fun, carving pumpkins, and going trick-or-treating, and we talked about that too. Matt and Little Bear had fun carving a pumpkin yesterday, and tonight for supper we had stuffed "jack-o-peppers," because clearly keeping up with life was too easy and I needed an extra challenge today? I don't know. Little Bear was excited about them, though, and they turned out better than I expected.


I bundled Little Bear into his superhero costume (over top of his coat, because that's how costumes work here) and we went trick-or-treating at four houses in our neighborhood before the car decided that it didn't like the key and wouldn't let me turn it on, and Matt had to come over with the spare key and save us. So then we went home.

Turns out that if the steering wheel is turned too sharply when you take the key out, it can "lock" and not let you turn the car back on. At least there's nothing wrong with our car!

All Saints Day is a holy day of obligation; we're still trying to figure out how we are going to make it to Mass, because all of the parishes in town have their Masses at the same times which is horribly inconvenient if those few times don't work for you. I'm sure we'll work something out, though. Little Bear and Kit are both excited about wearing Saint costumes tomorrow; okay, Kit is just excited about the pretty red princess-y dress (Bl Gisella, first queen of Hungary), but Little Bear was very sure he wanted to be St Juan Diego again this year. We didn't make it to the cathedral's All Saints party yesterday since the kids were sick, but Little Bear figured we could just have our own party on All Saints Day instead. So I guess I'm looking up a few simple games tonight!

I have a nice dinner planned for the feast day—ham, butternut squash, and roasted Brussels sprouts with a honey-balsamic glaze—and we'll be celebrating our own little saint in a special way throughout the day.

For All Souls' Day, Masses are even harder to find than on All Saints, but we'll try to at least visit a cemetery and say a rosary as a family. From inside the car, because it'll be in the 20s out and we can be pious and practical at the same time, especially when the kids are sick. The religion lesson for the day will involve talking about purgatory and November being the month specially set aside for praying for the dead; I'm planning to have Little Bear help me write the names of our relatives who have died on slips of paper to put in our prayer corner, so that we can pray for them all month. And the kids will help me bake doughnuts, because soul cakes

Thursday, November 3, is the feast day of St Hubert; as the patron saint of hunters, St Hubert is a pretty big deal around here! We'll read the story of St Hubert and the white stag, and talk about how we pray for Saint Hubert's intercession when Dad is out hunting, and what "intercession" means. If the kids are healthy enough by then, we'll go for a quick tromp in the woods, looking for birds and animals. And there might be one last package of moose steak hanging out in the freezer from last season; I think that'd make a fitting supper.

Friday... We try to go to Mass on First Fridays, but that'll depend on how the kids are doing. Friday Mass is right in the middle of Kit's nap time, and I am not going to mess with nap time unless she's much better than she is right now. I think we will wrap up the week's lessons by learning and discussing the Requiem aeternum, Eternal rest grant into them, O Lord... and probably reiterate Wednesday's discussion of praying for the dead in November. Little Bear seems to have gotten my love for the liturgical year—he appreciates explanations of "we're doing X today because today is Y/a part of Y season"—so I think he will respond well to the idea of there being a particular thing we do because it's November.

So that's my master plan! And now that it's all written out, I'm probably going to get hit with the full brunt of the kids' cold and our actual week won't be nearly as organized, because that's how life works. :-) We'll see how it goes.

What are your traditions for Hallowtide? Is anyone else celebrating St Hubert in a special way on Thursday? I'd love to hear your plans.

29 October 2016

A quiet moment

Kit and I are sitting still in a quiet house right now, a rarity these days. The poor munchkin has a head cold, and is cuddled up snoring in my lap while Matt and Little Bear are out running errands. My to-do list is a mile long, as ever, but rather than lay Kit down and risk waking her, I'm going to stay right here and write.

How long has it been since I've talked about the kids? Longer than I expected, that's for sure. I feel like I never have time to write a long, well-thought-out post, so I just haven't been writing at all. Well, let's do a little catching up.

Kit, almost one and a half, is normally the happiest little girl. She's been clingy and whimpery for the last week or so with this cold, but when she's well-rested, her smile comes out again. She talks constantly, and is starting to put two words together more often: "milk please," "mama down" (when she wants me to be done at the table), "mama up" (when she wants to be picked up), etc. I know most of her words are unintelligible to most people, but because we're around her and talking with her all the time, we recognize more than 50 words that she uses regularly. Sometimes it does take context to figure out what she's saying though, and occasionally I can't figure it out at all, which frustrates her.

She's walking and running on her own, usually squirms to get down and walk instead of being carried, and dances/bounces whenever she hears music. Kit loves helping: she hands me silverware from the dishwasher one piece at a time, prompting me with a "tank'oo" to thank her for every single piece, and gets mad if her brother starts putting away handfuls of it by himself without waiting for her. When the buzzer sounds on the washing machine or dryer, both kids drop whatever they are doing and go running for the laundry room—I haven't had to load laundry in or out of either machine  here!

And after prayers every evening, she runs up to Matt to say "night-night," give him a hug, and brush a hand across his forehead with a "beh-oo!" (Bless you). So cute!

Little Bear, 4 and change, is generally very helpful too. He's still getting over the same cold that Kit has, so it's been a long week in the Shifflerhaus. But he does usually try to be good. He loves to help in the kitchen, and lately has been "cooking" toy food for me and Kit. The other afternoon, I had to laugh as he was talking his way through making a salad "with an orange lemon vinaigrette, and some fresh herbs, and five tablespoons of white vinegar. And I'll just lay this lemon slice on the side for a garnish, okay Mom?"

He's still excited about doing school every morning. We're doing four main subjects this year—handwriting, religion, math, and reading—along with a monthly subscription to a kids' cooking class that ties in elements of science, history, geography, and culture. He has picked up everything really well so far; he's reading stories with short-vowel words with little to no help from me, and loves using his abacus and playing math games. (We're using Catholic Heritage Curricula materials for handwriting, religion, and reading, and Right Start Math for math.)

We only have an inch or so of snow on the ground so far, but winter is definitely here; it's 32 degrees F outside right now, which is the warmest it's been in a while! Matt fired up the wood stove for the first time earlier this week, and we were all happy to find things to do in the living room so that we could enjoy the warmth. Little Bear has been itching to go play in what little snow we have, but I've been trying to keep him in until his cough lets up... Hopefully both kids are feeling better soon, and we can spend more time playing outside. For now we're having fun watching birds and animals out in the snow instead: in the last few days, we've seen a woodpecker, several squirrels, a couple of dark-eyed juncos and black-capped chickadees, and two female pine grosbeaks.