28 September 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday, Vol. I

I've been meaning to start doing these for months, and something always comes up to interfere with my blogging plans on Fridays! I finally outsmarted the computer, though: I'm writing this on Thursday night instead. Shh, don't tell...

Good King Wenceslaus went out, on the feast of Stephen... I'm ashamed to admit it, but that song contains the sum total I know about St. Wenceslaus. In fact, it probably contains more than my total knowledge about the saint, because I can never remember more than the first verse! Because today is his feast day, I decided to see what I could learn.

Wenceslaus was a Bohemian duke, not king, in the 900s who was known for his piety and generosity to the poor. His grandfather converted to Christianity through the influence of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, but in Wenceslaus' day, the new religion still faced great resistance from devotees of the old Germanic paganism. This conflict raged in Wenceslaus' own family, and may have played a part in his assassination by his brother, Boleslav the Cruel. He was acclaimed a martyr immediately following his death in 935, and Holy Roman Emperor Otto I posthumously declared him a king. A Czech legend claims that when the country faces its greatest danger, the statue of St Wenceslaus in Prague will come to life and lead an army of knights, currently asleep within the mountain Blanik, in their defense.

Since Matt worked late last night, I had the opportunity to swing by the Catholic Student Association up at the university for Mass and to introduce the baby to everyone I hadn't seen since last school year. Two of the guys had dinner ready following Mass: miso soup, onigiri (with coconut!), and salmon sushi. I didn't have time to sit down to dinner before picking Matt up, but they insisted on packing up some onigiri and sushi for us. It was so good!

The CSA guys couldn't get over how much Little Bear resembles his dad -- they were sure that if he just had a beard, they would look identical. I'm almost tempted to see what I can do with a crochet hook and some scraps of brown yarn...

People ask me all the time whether I've adjusted to being a mom yet. My response is generally "yes, of course"... and it's true, at least most of the time. And yet I was shocked the other day to realize that the woman flying down the road ahead of me in a mustang was about my age, but she was a college student and I'm a mom. It's not that I think of myself as a college student... it just made me feel old, somehow.

Wanted: stain remover that actually works on baby messes! We have at least one diaper explosion and one instance of projectile vomiting a day, and I have yet to find anything that really gets rid of either stain.

Why do they make overalls, real denim overalls with big metal hooks and nobs and such, for baby boys? Yes, they look cute, but I can't imagine the designers have ever actually dressed a baby in their creation and had them stay happy for long. We keep trying to convince Little Bear that he likes them, and he keeps throwing up on them to get us to take them off. So far, he is definitely winning.

27 September 2012

Owl Cupcakes

Me: I'm so happy with how these are turning out! I should put a photo on the blog, with a note about how I feel like I already have a kindergartener...

Matt: Are you talking about me?

Me: Who am I frosting owl cupcakes for at 10:30 pm?

Matt: Me...

One of the grants Matt works with is called Online With Libraries, generally shortened to OWL. He and his coworkers have had fun with the owl theme, decking out their office in everything from owl mugs to posters to finger puppets. A friend sent us an owl toy for the baby -- it mysteriously disappeared, and I saw it the other day on Matt's desk.

This past Sunday, my mother won a gift basket with an owl cupcake pan at their parish harvest festival; knowing how much fun Matt would have with it, she sent it home with us. Coincidentally enough, yesterday was his coworker's last day, so I was already quasi-committed to baking something to send in to the office this week. What could be more apropos for an OWL employee's farewell than owl cupcakes?

Which is why I found myself frosting owl cupcakes at 10:30 pm. It is a good thing I don't have a kindergartener yet... I need all the time I can get to practice making "cute food" before I have to worry about sending snacks with him to class! My family's artistic genes definitely skipped me... One sister draws, sews, beads, makes dolls, plays the violin, and decorated our wedding cake. Another sews, quilts, knits, sings, plays the recorder and tin whistle, and does fancy embroidery. Me? I can crochet straight lines.

Clearly, art is not one of my strongest points. While not exactly Pinterest-worthy, though, I'm quite happy with my cute, cross-eyed little owls:

Yes, they have green beaks. I didn't have any yellow food coloring, and Matt didn't want me to use turmeric... I wanted to make the breasts white and the feet some color other than chocolate, but I worried they would come out looking like penguins. Maybe next time they will look more like proper owls!

26 September 2012

Feast of Sts Cosmas & Damian

Saints Cosmas and Damian were twin brothers, both physicians, who lived in the 200s in present-day Turkey and Syria. They are said to have attracted many to Christianity by the simplicity of their lives and their miraculous abilities to heal. One of the most dramatic healings attributed to the brothers was the transplanting of an entire leg: It is told that Cosmas and Damian replaced the amputated leg of a patient with the leg of a recently deceased man.

The twins, along with their three younger brothers, were martyred in Cilicia under the persecution of Diocletian. They are the patrons of many groups, including physicians, barbers, confectioners, and orphanages.

Since I happened to have a single, lonely 9" round chocolate cake layer hanging out in my kitchen last night, I decided to decorate it for today's feast. Cosmas and Damian are usually depicted with the tools of their profession, but since I wasn't brave enough to attempt to recreate third century medical implements in frosting, I just put the caduceus in between their names. After more research, I discovered that it should have been the rod of asclepius, and that the caduceus has been erroneously used as a medical insignia since 1902! Wish I'd known that last night -- the rod of asclepius would have been a lot easier to shape.

24 September 2012

Our Lady of Ransom

You know something falls under the "little known Catholic stuff" heading when it takes more than two clicks to find a Wikipedia article on it...

My day planner says that, in the Extraordinary Form, today is the optional memorial of Our Lady of Ransom.  Because I'd never heard that title for Our Lady before, I looked it up... well, I tried to. The Catholic Encyclopedia doesn't even have an article with that title. A Wikipedia search redirects to the page on the Royal, Celestial and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Redemption of the Captives. What a mouthful!

Apparently, the title Our Lady of Ransom is used interchangeably with Our Lady of Mercy. It is likely that veneration of Our Lady under both titles stemmed from the same visions:  In 1218, Our Lady appeared to St. Peter Nolasco, St. Raymond of Penafort, and King James of Aragon, requesting that an order be founded to rescue Christians held captive by the Moors. The Royal, Celestial and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Redemption of the Captives was founded, and claimed Our Lady of Rescue as patroness.

Word of these visions spread through Cistercian Caesarius of Heisterbach's Dialogus miraculorum (1230).  The first known iconography of Our Lady of Mercy appeared in 1280, depicting three Franciscans protected by Our Lady. Today, Our Lady of Ransom/Mercy is depicted with people of various ethnicities, social standings, etc. taking refuge beneath her mantle.

22 September 2012

My little oven timer

Do all children come with a built-in over timer, or is mine just weird?

Every single time I try to bake something -- no matter what it is, no matter how long it's in for, no matter what new calamity is bringing the house down around our ears while it's baking -- my dear, frustrating little boy never fails to be in my arms, just on the verge of falling asleep but still fussing, when the timer goes off.  Every time.  It's been two and a half months!

He could be sound asleep when a batch of cookies goes in for 12 minutes or wide awake and happily playing on the floor when banana bread goes in for an hour and a half; he will still be barely awake, needing to be held, when the timer goes off.  It's unreal... how does he do it?

19 September 2012

Catholic Speakers Month: Interview with Simcha Fisher

For Support a Catholic Speaker Month 2012, I had the privilege of interviewing one of my favorite bloggers, Simcha Fisher of I have to sit down. If you aren't familiar with her writing, you are missing out!  You can also find her work on Faith and Family Live! and the National Catholic Register.


Wife, mother of nine, freelance writer, popular blogger, and now Catholic speaker? How do you do it all?

Well, I have a house with a stainless steel interior, sloping floors, and a drain in the middle. Once a day, I hose everybody and everything down.  Then we say our prayers and, still dripping, go to our stainless steel beds. 

Heh.  No, but it certainly is a juggling routine.  Something is always getting neglected or mishandled.  The trick is to make sure you vary that something week to week, so things don't get too bad.  And that is not a joke.  That's how we do it.

My husband helps a LOT.  He works two jobs, but he understands that I need help at home; so we have to communicate constantly to make sure that nobody feels like they're getting the short end of the stick.  The horrible part is, we're both night owls who have to get up at 6 a.m.  We do save time by strictly eliminating any sort of exercise from our lives.  It's a grueling regimen, and requires a real devotion to lying on the couch drinking beer and moaning, once the kids are in bed at night, but we try to keep each other honest.

How long have you been writing?

I started in first grade.  I wrote a book review for a book called The Little Airplane.  It went: "The little airplane.  This book is about a little airplane."  That was before I knew about adverbs.

I was lucky enough to have a high school teacher who required daily writing, and I went to a college where the students turned out reams and reams of essays.  I wrote long letters to family and letters to the editor when I got married, and started a personal blog about six years ago.  My first post showed a picture of the baby eating spaghetti out of the garbage.  So, more or less back to the little airplane again.

But then, one day, Danielle Bean read my blog and said something very wonderful to me.  She said, "I will pay you for that."  And so I started submitting articles to Catholic websites and magazines, and now I make literally hundreds of dollars at my craft! 

And I'm about 80% done with a book I'm writing about NFP.

Has humor always been a prominent characteristic of your speaking and writing? How does it affect the messages you're sharing with your audience?

Yeah, it's hard to get away from.  My family is Jewish (we converted to Catholicism when I was about four), and we are pretty much always laughing and/or crying and/or yelling about something.  I lean on humor even when I have a serious point to make, because it reminds people that we're all in this together.  Also, life is funny. 

As a blogger, I'm sure you have experience with folks to take advantage of the anonymity of the Internet to say hateful things. Have you ever encountered the same type of remarks as a speaker? How do you deal with these comments online? In person?

Wow, I never thought of dealing with it at a speech!  I would probably burst into tears.  But honestly, nobody goes to, like, a three-day homeschooler's conference in Connecticut just to heckle people. I don't think.

Online, my policy is to pretend I'm a much, much better person than I really am.  Sometimes I manage it, and sometimes I don't.  Sometimes I go for the snarky, sarcastc zinger, because it feels so good (until later, when you realize -- ugh, nice job showing the face of Christ to the world). 

When someone really gets under my skin, I try to pray for them (just a quick Hail Mary!) before I respond.  Sometimes it turns out that someone is writing nasty stuff out of personal pain, and you just happened to get in the way.  Or sometimes, people are just jerks, and that's their problem, not yours.

It's very liberating, though, to realize that I really don't have to answer at all, if I don't want to.  In that way, I can kind of be anonymous, too.  For all they know, I never even saw the comment.  So, poo on them.  (Yes, I learned that phrase from St. Alphonsis Liguori.)

Many of your talks address family size, large families or NFP. These days, we're hearing a lot of numbers thrown around to "prove" that Catholic women don't care what the Church says about birth control. Are women really open to the message of NFP and openness to life?

That's a great question.  Women are, as you know, not a monolith -- as much as the secular media would like to make us out to be.  Some women are most definitely open to the message of openness to life. 

We've seen several generations of the disorder and suffering that promiscuity can cause.  You don't have to be a religious fanatic to realize that things aren't going too well.  So even thoroughly secularized women are probably ready for some kind of message.  I think, at the very least, most women are ready to hear someone say, "You deserve better.  You should be treated with respect.  You are not a commodity, and it's okay that you're going to get old.  So, what in your life needs changing right now?"

How can moms who may not be comfortable with public speaking share this message with those around them?

This may sound like a cop-out, but I really do believe that the message begins by telling it to your family.  Make sure your family knows that you are pro-their-life!  Make sure your children know that you like them.  Make sure your husband knows you desire him.  You build a happy, secure family, and other people will see it -- they will get the message. 

It's okay not to go out of your way to preach, as long as you do leave the house at some point, and let people see you!  People need to see happiness -- they need to see love in action.  It feeds them.

How can Catholic bloggers and speakers contribute to the New Evangelization today?

By acting like normal human beings, I think.  Being Catholic in public shows the secular world that we are not some kind of repressed, finger-sniffing weirdos.  Some of us are smart, some of us are nice, some of us are depressed, some of us are cute, some of us are snappy dressers, some of us are just everyday schlubs -- just like the rest of the world.

And, just as importantly, being ourselves reminds our fellow Catholics that we're all in this together.  Because I think Catholics need to be evangelized (or at least encouraged) just as much as the secular world does.  It's been really great to see Catholics realize, over the last couple of decades:  oh!  There are people like me out there!  There are people who struggle with NFP, people who drink too much and then regret it, people who kind of hate saying the rosary -- and they're still actual Catholics, not phonies or failures or deadbeats. 

Of course there is the inevitable downside to all this honesty.  But overall, I think having Catholics being sort of loud and proud (and looney and messy, like we always are) has been a net positive, and it will just get better.

If you could be invited to speak anywhere, where would you want to go?

I wouldn't want to set foot in a place that would invite someone like me.  Heh.  But really, I am a homebody.  I'm paranoid about hotel bedbugs.  I get lost on the way to my kids' elementary school.  And I never understand how to work the blinds in hotel room windows. 

But if they would come to me, I think I would most like to address an audience of husbands.  I would just like to thank them, and encourage them, and remind them how desperately the world needs them to be strong and steadfast, tender to their families, but courageous to the outside world.  I would like to tell them that women love men because they are different from us!  But that they also need to be different from other men. 

And then I would like them to buy me a drink.
You can find more information about inviting Simcha to speak at your event here.

Don't forget to check out the complete list of 2012's top Catholic speakers!

18 September 2012

Fruit for the winter

Most of the year, the only fresh produce available in stores here is shipped in from the Lower 48. With fuel costs the way they are, this means that putting fruits and vegetables on the table often ranges from frustrating to impossible. Gardening is an invaluable way to offset produce expenses over the long winter, and while our apartment and my pregnancy conspired to make gardening impossible for us this summer, we've been so blessed by family and friends who have shared their bounty with us.

I can't remember an autumn growing up when everyone's primary activity (well, secondary to school) didn't involve chopping, blanching, canning, freezing, or otherwise processing the fruits of my parents' garden. This year has been the same: I scalded, bagged, and froze three quarts of carrots just the other day, and have recently been working my way through the obscene amount of rhubarb my mother gave us.

Friday afternoon was devoted to strawberry-rhubarb jam. Eight half-pints should be more than enough to last us until the summer, and I'm so happy to not need to buy jam from the store, which is often full of preservatives.

After Mass on Sunday, our slow cooker was pressed into service making stewed rhubarb, which will be wonderful with granola, plain yogurt, or vanilla ice cream. I realize that it really hasn't been rhubarb season in many other parts of the country for a while now, but if you have the chance, give this recipe a try! It is so good, and I don't think I've ever seen a simpler recipe. (I tripled these quantities.)

Stewed Rhubarb
4 cups rhubarb, diced
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
Combine in a slow cooker and cook on Low for 8-9 hours. Makes about one quart.

While the little boy naps today, I'm hoping to bake a couple of batches of rhubarb cookies with white chocolate chips; they are healthy, with whole wheat flour and very little sugar, and freeze nicely. I'm not sure what I'll make after that... I still have 10 cups of fresh rhubarb to use, and there are already two gallons of it in our freezer!

17 September 2012

Grilled Cheeseburger Wraps

Your everyday burrito? Think again.
In all honesty, the exercise routines I've been putting myself through trying to lose the baby weight (and failing miserably) have not been a whole lot better than labor was. Disclaimer: I wouldn't describe my contractions as "painful" until I was in transition. And in the battle to fit back into pre-pregnancy clothes, carbohydrates are not my allies. They are wicked, wicked sirens luring me to their lair in the cookie jar...  Ahem.  Not my friends.  Moving on.

I'd been wanting to put burgers on the menu for a while now, but was having trouble reconciling myself to making thick, soft, delicious hamburger buns and then having to resist the extras for the rest of the week, so the burgers were put off.  And put off.  And put off, until I stumbled across a most unusual recipe from Skinny Mom's Kitchen: Grilled Cheeseburger Wraps.

I made a couple of modifications to her recipe, and served these wraps for dinner tonight.  They were so good!  Definitely a good change of pace from regular burritos, and they managed to satisfy my burger craving as well.

Griddled Cheeseburger Wraps
1 pound ground beef
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 teaspoon dry minced onion
1 tablespoon black pepper
6 10-inch tortillas
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 medium tomato, sliced
3-6 leaves romaine

In a medium skillet, brown the ground beef. Drain and add Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, onion and pepper.  Saute another 3-5 minutes, or until the mixture is thoroughly warmed and homogenous.

If your tortillas, like mine, have a tendency to tear when cool, warm them slightly while the beef mixture sautes.  Sprinkle 1/3 cup of cheese down the center of each tortilla.  Cover with 1/6 of the beef mixture, tomato, and romaine.  Wrap snugly.

Place wraps, one at a time, open edge down in a clean skillet.  Flip when the first side begins to brown.

Bringing in the harvest

Little Bear and I spent much of the past week or so at my parents' house, giving them a hand as they frantically harvested everything left in the garden and tried to put it up before winter strikes. It won't be long now: there is a layer of frost on the windshield every morning, and the clouds scudding across the sky are looking more and more like snow.

 Thursday, in particular, was exciting. Armed with shovel, 5-gallon bucket, and very dirty hands, I waded into the carrot bed. My siblings helpfully informed me that they'd seen voles scurrying in and out of the carrots, but they were sure that they'd scared the rodents away. Gee, thanks. I put the voles out of my mind and settled in to dig carrots and enjoy the beautiful afternoon.

It really was the perfect day: sun blazing down from a cloudless blue sky, the smells of mouldering leaves, woodsmoke, and freshly turned soil mingling in the crisp autumn breeze. Schick, thud. The shovel turned over one section of soil after another and I sifted through it for carrots, snapping off the feathery leaves and shaking loose clinging soil before dropping them in the bucket. The actions slowly became rote, and my mind wandered as I worked.

Five square feet into the bed, I came across something unusual. At least 20 tiny carrots, sans tops and taproots, were lying horizontally about three inches below the surface. What happened here? Did the dog disrupt this part of the bed before the carrots were fully grown? It didn't seem quite right, but they were certainly still edible. I began scooping them up, and was surprised to see that the pile went another couple of inches down. Carrot, carrot, carrot, carrot, baby vole... Wait, what? Being the stalwart outdoorswoman that I am, I promptly screamed.

Upon further examination, cautiously done by standing as far away as possible and poking gingerly at it with the shovel, it turned out to be not a baby vole but rather a badly misshapen and discolored carrot. (For which reason, if any of my siblings are reading this, our dad is never going to hear this story -- I don't need my kids growing up laughing about the time mommy mistook a carrot for a vole!)

Like this, but lumpier.
My peaceful afternoon thoroughly shattered, I made a halfhearted attempt to continue digging, but was very grateful when one of the kids came running down to tell me that the baby had woken up and needed me!

06 September 2012

POLL: His recipe, her recipe

While eating a mutually unsatisfactory chili last night, Matt and I fell to discussing our mothers' recipes and what we liked about them.  (I hadn't followed my mother's chili recipe because I forgot to check it before the weekly shopping trip, and was missing several key ingredients.  Like cocoa powder.  Shh, that's a secret.)  We've noticed that, while there are certain meals unique to one or the other's childhood, many of our "comfort foods" overlap, and that the recipes can be very different.  My apple pie has a sour cream custard base, his is straight-up apples.  His macaroni and cheese has to be made with conchiglie (shells), mine with elbows.

And so we wondered, how do other couples handle the dichotomy between Manhattan and New England clam chowder?  When only one of us has a strong attachment to the particular recipe we grew up with, it is easy.  In cases where we both feel strongly about our own recipe, though, I've generally added both to my cookbook and tried to alternate between them.

How do you choose?
pollcode.com free polls 

03 September 2012

The First Feast of Fall

Thanks to Labor Day, Little Bear and I had Daddy home to play with for three whole days!  Jude certainly appreciated having an extra person around to hold him while I was busy in the kitchen today.  I know that it's still hot in many parts of the country, but Labor Day is our sign that summer is truly ending... particularly after this year's unseasonably chilly August, there is no question that autumn is here: We haven't seen 60 degrees in weeks, and many of the trees are already brightly gilded or bronzed.

We had a special dinner tonight to celebrate the beginning of my favorite season: spicy Martini Pork Chops, mashed potatoes, green beans, apple cider, and a tart cherry cobbler!  Little Bear did us the wonderful favor of sleeping through dinner, so Matt and I were able to enjoy a peaceful meal for the first time in quite a while.

Martini Pork Chops
2 bone-in pork chops, 3/4 to 1 inch thick
3 cups water
1/4 cup gin
1/4 cup vermouth
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon dry rosemary
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon oil

Combine water, gin, vermouth, herbs, and salt in a gallon zip-top bag.  Add pork chops and allow to soak in the brine for at least five hours.  Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat.  Discard brine.  Brown pork chops 3-5 minutes on each side, until the barest blackening occurs.  Turn down heat to medium and cook uncovered 15 minutes or until juices run clear.

Sleep Theory #57

Yesterday afternoon, Little Bear fell asleep at 3 pm. An hour and a half later he was still napping, and rather than wake him up, I lay down for a nap myself.  Predictably, he woke up 10 minutes later and Matt brought him to me to eat.  He dozed off again as he was eating, and I was so tired that I just let him sleep.

I think the theory was that a) I needed sleep in order to be able to cope with waking up with him throughout the night, and b) he wanted to sleep now, thus offering me a chance to get some rest, so c) we should both sleep for as long as he wanted to.  He woke me up three hours later.

Was it a good idea to let him take a four-and-a-half-hour nap ending at 8:30 pm?  No!  He was very sweet-tempered and alert until falling asleep for the night two hours later, and is again very happy and alert this morning, but it is not yet half past six and we have been up for more than an hour... count this as another failed theory for a successful night's sleep.