29 December 2012

Seven Quick Takes, Vol. 13

Late again... (I said I'd be using that this week, didn't I?)

Little Bear has been going through clothes ridiculously fast of late; he was in his third outfit of the day by 8 this morning. I think that's a bit excessive; we tried to tell him that only little girls change outfits that often, and he just smiled and messed his diaper again.

I cannot wait for him to be off of these antibiotics! Hopefully we will go back to single-outfit days after he stops taking them. We started a probiotic a couple of days ago to try to help it, but so far there definitely hasn't been any improvement.

Little Bear is sure happy about the probiotic, though; it's a powder, so it has to be mixed into a food for him to eat it. That means I can't give him smushed-up peas: they are too thick to mix in the powder. I had to go buy baby oatmeal, which I'd said I wasn't going to do because it seemed silly to give him pretend, just-add-water food instead of real, mashed-up food. And to my chagrin, he loves it. I'd never have imagined it, but powdered oatmeal is wildly popular, even more so than applesauce--he can't get enough of it!

Everyone says that infants become constipated when they are first introduced to cereal. Falsehoods. The oatmeal hasn't been any more help than the probiotic at making his messes less... messy.

Thanks to Little Bear, and Christmas, and moose hunting, I washed five loads if laundry yesterday. Five! And there is another half-load accumulated already since yesterday evening. In the interest of conserving water and electricity I only do laundry twice a week, and on a typical laundry day I have one or two loads. Darn antibiotics.

One non-baby-related take: Matt went out looking for moose with my father and brother on Thursday, and they got one! It sounds like the hunt went very well: warm (above 0) weather, no mechanical problems, they got the moose at 10:30am so they had good light for the cleaning and bringing it back out to the road. Winter hunts are so much more convenient than fall hunts; the quarters freeze solid, so there isn't as much of a hurry to get everything processed right away. We'll still try to have everything cut up fairly soon, but if it stretches over a week or two, we don't have to worry about the meat going bad. I'm looking forward to having good meat in the freezer again! Beef is so expensive, and I prefer the taste of moose anyway.

More quick takes at ConversionDiary.com!

25 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

Christ is born! Glorify him!

So grateful to have had a peaceful, joyful celebration as a family today! I enjoyed a quiet hour to myself early this morning before Matt and Little Bear woke up (probably my last quiet Christmas morning for many years!), and we attended morning mass together before swinging by my parents' house for dinner. I'm still fighting off the flu, and got progressively more dizzy and faint as time went on, so we headed home and skyped Matt's family quick before LB and I went down for a good long nap.

Exchanging gifts with/around a baby was exciting; there wasn't much, but he certainly didn't care--his favorite part by far was tearing (and trying to eat) the paper! He also got to sit in his high chair and play with real food for the first time today: I didn't expect any of the mashed peas to actually make it into his mouth, so I wasn't disappointed, but he had great fun throwing the spoon on the floor. Bath time, which is always necessary after the daily medicine taking-and-throwing-up, was made much more fun by the rubber ducky from his grandma, too. Hopeful he will sleep well tonight--he was tired out by so much excitement.

Oh, one thing more: I keep promising folks pictures, so here you go: a genuine Alaskan Christmas tree! They aren't "sparse;" they have an extra dimension to decorate. :-)

24 December 2012

'Twas the Day Before Christmas

'Twas the day before Christmas, and all through the house
The stomach flu lingered! And Mommy did grouse,
"The stockings aren't finished, the cookie tin's bare,
And presents still need to be wrapped and placed there!"
The baby lay nestled midst Christmassy threads
While the sewing machine hummed over bright greens and reds.
With box cutter dexterous, with paintbrush and glue,
Dad made the last gift, and he wrapped it up, too!
All the cookies were baked and the presents wrapped quickly:
All seemed well and good, 'til the baby turned sickly.
We worried and fussed, then at last called the nurse
Who enflamed all our fears by predicting the worst;
We sprang to the jeep, and the heater-vents whistled
As to the ER we flew, like a 4x4 missile.*
The waiting room empty, they called us back quick
And the baby would not act the slightest bit sick!
He squirmed on the table and chortled and cooed;
The doctor commended his holiday mood.
"A result of his antibiotics," he said,
"Is quite likely this bleeding; you have nothing to dread."
So with lab scrips in hand we returned to our home
To watch him, but not worry, unless more symptoms come.
O what a first Christmas for our Little Bear
We will surely remember his fun, and our scare.
Now quieted down, set to turn off the light
We wish to you all a peace-filled Christmas night!

*Dreadful, I know, I'm sorry, but it's late and nothing else rhymed.

23 December 2012

Christmas Craziness and Toffee Bars

It's the night before the day before Christmas. The stockings are still three steps from finished; the tree is losing needles every time we turn around; the presents aren't wrapped; I found out two hours ago that, surprise, I'm making Christmas dinner for the family! and Little Bear just threw up his antibiotics for the second time today. All over me. Ho. ho. ho.

So how am I industriously using my time now that LB is finally napping? (Other than blogging, silly). No, I'm not doing any of the things on my rapidly growing list: I'm baking cookies!

Toffee bars are one of the traditions Matt grew up with every Christmas; they're something he would really miss if they didn't show up. He was good enough to say, knowing that I was stressed by everything else that must be done, that he didn't mind if they appeared later in the Christmas season... but I really wanted to do something nice for him, so here we are.

I also grew up with toffee at Christmas, but I really like my mother-in-law's recipe:

Preheat oven to 350F. Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 1/2 cup cold butter. Pat into a foil-lined, greased 13x9 pan. Bake for 12 minutes.

In a saucepan, melt 1/2 cup room-temperature butter over low heat until bubbly. Add 1/2 cup brown sugar, 3 tablespoons honey, 1/2 cup heavy cream, and 2 tablespoons syrup and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until it reaches a boil. Allow to boil 1 minute without stirring, then pour over hot crust.

Sprinkle 1 1/2 cups pecans, chopped evenly over the toffee. Bake another 12 - 15 minutes, until the toffee bubbles. Sprinkle up to 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips on top and allow to melt for 2 minutes, then swirl across toffee with a spatula. Cool completely. To remove, invert pan on a cutting board, then peel away foil.

I'll get a photo up once they are out of the oven and cut!

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, God with us, our King and lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Savior; come to save us, O Lord our God.

The last of the O Antiphons: tomorrow night, Christ will be with us as we recall His birth in Bethlehem, so many years ago. As we hurry through these last few hours before Christmas, remember that the most important preparation takes place within our hearts. Rejoice, rejoice; men from all the nations await together the coming of Emmanuel!

O Come, O come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice, rejoice; Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

22 December 2012

Seven Quick Takes Friday, Vol. 12

Late again... (would it be cheating to make that count for one? Maybe next week...)

It was COLD this week! We got down to -50F at least once, and it didn't get warmer than -30F all week long. Matt was brave enough to go out tree-hunting on Sunday anyway; Little Bear and I were happy to sit by the fireplace in Grandma's nice, warm house!

Two more trips to the doctor under our belts; the current opinion is that Little Bear has unusually aggressive seborrhea with a secondary skin infection. We're having to give the poor child penicillin and septra twice a day for the next week. Needless to say, he hates it.

We may only be having one kind of Christmas cookie this year. I grew up in a house where there were at least fifteen varieties every year, so the concept of just one feels strange, but I accidentally made a lot of the first kind and I don't think we need anymore. That's "a lot" as in "nine and a half dozen." What was I thinking?!? I was clearly planning on giving cookies away, but still...

The superabundance of cookies isn't a variety I ever had growing up, but is one of Matt's traditions: peanut butter Hershey kiss cookies. Some time before next Christmas, I need to get his mom's recipe: I just made my standard peanut butter cookies and stuck Hershey kisses on top when they came out of the oven, and while they taste fine, they look very little like the ones he is used to.

Drumroll... Little Bear has learned to roll over! Being our son (i.e. stubborn and unique), he can't go from stomach to back yet (supposed to happen first), but he can happily roll his chunky little self from his back to his stomach. In which position he has learned to violently kick his legs up and down, because it makes such a fun noise.

Not such a little self, I suppose... He gained a quarter-pound between Monday and Thursday! Little Bear is now just over 17lbs, and is 26 inches long. It's hard to picture how small he was just a few short months ago.

Three days left before Christmas! And you know what? I'm not panicking. Presents still need to be wrapped, no progress has been made on the stockings since last Sunday, I still don't have any idea what is happening (or what we're eating) Christmas Eve or Christmas... but the tree is up and decorated, Matt's present will be ready for me to pick up Christmas Eve morning, and I have 114 cookies. Everything's going to be just fine.

O Rex Gentium

O King of the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

In stonemasonry, the block at the apex of an arch is called the "keystone". An arch cannot support itself without the keystone; it is the piece that holds the rest of the arch in place and allows it to bear weight. Truly, Christ is our keystone: He is the head, the Church His mystical body. He gives us life and hold us in existence--with God we are strong ("I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me," Phil 4:13), without God we crumble back to the dust from whence we came.

Only through Christ, our Keystone, can all nations be united in peace: the "arch of man," the coming together of all humanity, cannot bear weight without Him.

O come, Desire of Nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid every strife and quarrel cease,
And fill the world with heaven's peace. Rejoice, rejoice; Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

21 December 2012

O Oriens

O dawn of the East, brightness of light eternal, and sun of justice: come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Today's Antiphon echoes the end of yesterday's, but with a different focus: enlightenment as opposed to release. By placing these two Antiphons together, the Church illustrates that we are in need of both: Come, set us free from our sins; come, teach us what is right that we may not fall back into error again.

The rising of the sun has long caused the East to be viewed, at least symbolically, as the direction from which The Lord comes. We still see this in our worship today: all Catholic churches are (supposed to be) built with the main altar facing East, and we sing hymns like "People Look East" during Advent.

O come Thou Dayspring from on high
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadow put to flight.
Rejoice, rejoice; Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

19 December 2012

Ember Days

Today we observe the first of the winter Ember Days, which always falls on the Wednesday following Gaudete Sunday. Doesn't sound familiar? Don't worry, you're not alone: Ember Days are one of those parts of the liturgical calendar that somehow got lost in the kerfuffle following the Second Vatican Council, but bringing back the observance at home is simple!

Basically, the Ember Days are four sets of three days--Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday--marking the four seasons of the physical year. They are days of penitence (fasting, partial abstinence, prayer), but are also meant to focus on thanksgiving for the natural world. Traditionally they have also been periods particularly set aside for prayers for priestly vocations, and are a popular time for ordinations.

How can you observe the Ember Days this season? It doesn't have to be something big. We are having smaller, meatless meals today, Friday (obviously), and Saturday, and will be adding extra prayers for vocations, and for the priests and seminarians we know.

There is an excellent explanation of Ember Days at Why I Am Catholic, which I strongly recommend for a more in-depth look at the hows and whys of this observance:


O Clavis David

O Key of David and Scepter of the house of Israel, who opens and no man shuts, who shuts and no man opens: come, and bring forth the captive from his prison, he who sits in darkness and under the shadow of death.

When cities were enclosed by heavy walls for protection, the keeper of the key to the gate was a powerful and respected figure, usually the king (or prince, baron, mayor...). This is whence came the custom of presenting an honored guest with the "key" to a city: today it is a symbolic gesture indicating respect. By naming Christ Scepter of Israel, we announce his kingship; by naming Him the Key of David, we proclaim that He is not only the one with the power to open the gates (the key holder), but also the very opener (the key itself). Today's Antiphon immediately put me in mind of this verse:

And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.
Matthew 16:19, DRV

Christ comes to open the gates of Heaven to us, and he entrusted that key to the Church through the authority of St Peter, the first pope.

O come thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav'nly home.
Make straight the way that leads on high
That we no more may have cause to sigh.

17 December 2012

O Radix Jesse

O Root of Jesse that stands for an ensign of the people, before whom kings keep silence and unto whom the Gentiles shall make supplication: come to deliver us and tarry not.

So many things we can draw from today's Antiphon! "Root of Jesse" points back to the prophecy of a"shoot sprung from the stump of Jesse" who would save his people. Christ comes to save His people from their enemies, but rather than crushing the Gentiles who have stood opposed to the Israelites, He allows them, too, to take part in His salvation and victory over death. All who make supplication to Him may be saved. We beg him, as His people have done throughout history, "Hurry, come quickly! Do not delay; we need you."

O Come thou rod of Jessie's stem;
From ev'ry foe deliver them
That trust thy mighty power to save,
And give them vict'ry o'er the grave.
Rejoice, rejoice; Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel.

O Adonai

O Lord and Ruler of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the flame of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: come, and redeem us with outstretched arms.

Today's verse is a bit less complete a transliteration of the Antiphon than yesterday's was, but the sense is still there; come, mighty ruler and law-giver, majestic and powerful beyond our human comprehension! Come, lord who spoke through fire and cloud, at once ruler and ransomer of your people.

O Come, O come, Thou Lord of might
Who to thy tribes on Sinai's height
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice, rejoice; Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel.

O Sapientia

O Wisdom, who came forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly; come, and teach us the way of prudence.

It's December 17! We begin the final stretch of Advent this evening with the O Antiphons. Each antiphon invokes one of the Scriptural attributes of Christ, referring to Isaiah's prophecy of the Messiah. By praying them in English, we miss the acrostic hidden in the Antiphons: read backwards, the first letters of the titles in Latin form the phrase "ero cras," or "I will be with you tomorrow." (The Antiphons begin tonight and end on December 23, as we celebrate Christ's birth the night of the 24).

For several centuries, the Church of England began their O Antiphons on December 16, adding an Antiphon invoking Our Lady: O Virgo virginum, or O Virgin of virgins. The acrostic then read "vero cras," or "truly, tomorrow." This practice, however, was not adopted by other Christians.

The Advent hymn "O Come O Come Emmanuel" is actually a musical setting of the O Antiphons. Include them in your prayer this evening by singing the verse:

O come, thou Wisdom from on high
Who orderst all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show
And teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice, rejoice; Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel.

(Out of respect for a former schola director, I feel compelled to point out that we "dreadful American congregations" have an unfortunate tendency to add a comma after "Emmanuel" in that last line. Note the meaning of the text; we aren't telling Emmanuel to rejoice--we're telling Israel to! It doesn't make any grammatical sense to put a break there.)

Murphy's Laws of Monday

You can't take the baby to the doctor just once.

It's seborrhea.

No, it's ringworm.

No, it's seborrhea.

We don't know. Come back on Friday.

The baby will only throw up at the times calculated to make mom craziest.

Four weeks running now, Little Bear has thrown up like clockwork: Monday and Thursday midday, while the last (planned) load of laundry is in the washing machine. There's something to be said for predictability, I suppose, but I'm in my third shirt of the day and it's not even 1pm.

The less convenient a nap is for mom, the more easily baby will fall asleep.

House to clean, laundry to fold, dinner to prepare, stockings to sew and tree to decorate? Definitely time to nap in mom's arms. Finished with chores and ready to fall into bed? Playtime. For at least two hours.

Bonus: Did you know that it's possible for a box of laundry soap to fall over in such a way as to spill its entire contents at once? The carpet in front of our washer and drier is nice and clean now.

16 December 2012

Christmas Stockings

I think I've said this before, but arts and crafts aren't exactly my thing. Drawing stick figures, okay. Crocheting, yes, but only rectangles. I sewed a quilt and some skirts back in high school, but haven't attempted more than basic mending jobs for years. So it still kind of boggles my mind that I suggested that I make Christmas stockings for the family. The insanity doesn't even end there: I volunteered to decorate them with appliquéd white satin silhouettes, a technique I have admired for years but have never once attempted.

Maybe Matt knows how many hours I spent working on the silly project today-- I don't want to know. After far too long spent trying to freehand a stocking pattern, tracing and painstakingly cutting out shapes on the satin, and learning to use the satin zigzag stitch on the machine (sewing machines have a special stitch just for edging satin! Who would have guessed?), the first silhouette has been safely attached to it's fleece.

I did my own first, so I could have a little more practice before doing the others (I.e. so that theirs will hopefully look better). The other two should actually be easier: Little Bear's star of Bethlehem is all straight lines, and Matt's bell is a simple shape with no tight turns. My angel had all manner of corners and curved edges to maneuver around! It's not perfect, but it went pretty darn well for a first attempt.

UPDATE: All three appliqués are done! The star was actually the hardest, because my bobbin thread broke and the machine kept insisting on making knots all the way up and down one ray. I'll have to go back by hand and fix it up a bit.

I'm pretty critical of them, of course; it's my own work. Matt thinks they look great, though, so I'm going to be satisfied and move on to the next step: sewing up the stockings themselves.

14 December 2012

Seven Quick Takes Friday, Vol. 11

The winter weirdness continues. Snow is still falling, although it has slowed from whiteout conditions to a bare few flakes at a time. No sooner did the snowfall slack off than the mercury began falling: It dropped 18 degrees in four hours yesterday, and the forecast lows keep sinking lower. We're fortunate to stil be hovering at -4.9 F right now; the high for tomorrow is -27, and for Sunday is -36. Little Bear and I made an extra trip to the store today to stock up on essentials in case the cold front sticks around!

Sunday is supposed to be Christmas tree cutting day, but if it gets into the -40s, I doubt the men (Matt, my father, and my brothers) will be too eager to haul their chainsaws up the mountain to hunt for trees... The other night, Matt remarked nonchalantly that it would be cheaper to get a fake tree and then donate it to the thrift store than to buy a real tree from one of the places selling them around town. I was having none of it; growing up, the very idea of a fake tree was anathema, and the idea of buying a Christmas tree instead of just going out and cutting one has always bugged me. It wasn't until I was partway through college that I learned that people in many parts of the country aren't allowed to just go out in the woods and cut their own! That's so sad... our scraggly wildfire-fodder black spruce that I've always decorated will certainly never be as "perfect" as a farmed tree, but I have so many great memories of tracking through waist-deep snow, off a windy dirt road halfway up a mountain, helping my father find our Christmas tree. I would hate to deprive Little Bear of that!

Those mountain roads will be exciting if it is warm enough for them to go out Sunday; even in our neighborhood, I have been so grateful to have four wheel drive and a higher-slung chassis. I saw several small cars sitting in the middle of the road, stuck, snow more than halfway up the wheel wells. There was so much snow that schools were closed yesterday! I have lived here 23 years, and have never once seen the schools close for snow. Hopefully the roads in our area will be plowed soon; they're fairly well packed down by this point, but they are anything but smooth!

The snow plows don't go nearly as far out as my father goes to cut Christmas trees, and from what I hear the hills around town got even more snow than we did, so tree cutting will truly be an adventure this year. A wear-warm-gear-and-take-survival-equipment adventure.

Even with the threat of being cold- and snow-bound next week wouldn't have taken me to town today if we hadn't had doctor appointments. Little Bear has something on his scalp that looked like an infected scratch, but fortunately, the doctor thinks it is only seborrhea that is getting irritated by friction and the extremely cold, dry air. She gave us some hydrocortisone to help calm it down.

Little Bear then accompanied me to the chiropractor, where he screamed in the poor nurse's arms the whole time. Remember when I said I was never bringing him to the chiropractor with me again? *sigh* Hopefully we won't be repeating that again for a good long time. It's a shame he dislikes it so much, though, because my chiropractor's office is only a block away from his pediatrician, and it would be so convenient to schedule our appointments together, because they are on the opposite side of town from us.

Speaking of which, it wasn't until I was all the way on the opposite side of town that I discovered I'd driven off with Matt's work keys after dropping him off this morning at the university. I'm sorry, dear...

So many feasts this week! After my failure on Sunday to really do anything for St Juan Diego, I felt obligated to make a better showing for OL Guadalupe (on Wednesday). A nice meal did make it to the table--roast chicken, bourbon-glazed yams and apples, and lemon-poppyseed bread pudding--but I didn't remember up set the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe with our Advent wreath until halfway through dinner, so I felt a bit silly. My mother and I talked about Saint Lucy yesterday evening, although, we didn't manage to really do anything else to observe her day, and today we will be celebrating St. John of the Cross by reading from his poetry. John of the Cross is famous, among many other things, for his drawing of the crucified Christ from the perspective of one looking from above; this drawing inspired Salvador Dali's Christ of Saint John of the Cross, an image special to Matt's college household.

I just, as in five minutes ago, realized that Christmas is only ten days away and I have not nearly finished making presents, have not begun wrapping presents, have not made stockings, have not done an iota of decorating, have not even thought about what food we will be eating or when/where we will be eating it... I can feel my hold on this "celebrating a peaceful Advent" ideal slipping. Here's hoping I can knock out one or two of the big projects (stockings would be great!) while Matt is home this weekend, so the last few days of Advent aren't crazy and stressful!

Have a very joyful Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday)! For more quick takes, visit ConversionDiary.com.

12 December 2012

Winter Wonder

Such inconsistent weather we are having this month! December started out wretchedly cold, but this past weekend it was a pleasant 9 degrees above zero. Our cold, clear skies finally clouded over early this week, and snow began falling steadily yesterday. Today, the thermometer has shot up to a balmy 21 degrees, and the snow is still falling--we have gotten nearly 10 inches already, the roads are a tad treacherous, and those children not old enough to shovel are beside themselves. Tomorrow should be the last day we see positive temperatures for a while, the meteorologists say, and by Sunday it could be -45 again.

We will take the beautiful weather while it lasts! Matt just moved to an office in a new building on campus, and remarked this evening that if it stayed like this all winter, he would really enjoy the half-mile walk to and from the parking lot each day. (Don't worry about him walking in the cold; the university has a system of shuttle busses.) Little Bear came out to check the mail with me today because it was so warm, and he stared and stared--everything looks so different than it did the last time I took him for a walk! He didn't know what to make of the cold, white, soft things falling all over us, either. By the time we got back into the house, he had accumulated a good half-centimeter on top of his hat!

It was such a joy to watch him watch, wonderingly, as the snowflakes piled up on his snowsuit and my coat. What is this pretty white stuff, Mommy, and why is my nose getting cold? The wonderment of children is so beautiful, especially as we are preparing for Christmas: watching Little Bear wonder at the snow, I was reminded of the wonder with which we all approach the manger. What child is this? What does this mean to my life?

I hope that, before it gets too cold again, we have a few more chances to share the joy of wonder with Little Bear in the beautiful, snowy winterland outside!

09 December 2012

A "Feast-ive" Weekend

What a lot got packed into this weekend! Yesterday, of course, was the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and today was both the second Sunday of Advent and the feast of St Juan Diego! If I had unlimited time, energy, and resources (ha!), we would celebrate every feast ever, but as it is we do our best to celebrate the big ones and the ones that have a special meaning to one or more family members: name days, special patrons, etc.

Saturday morning, I baked lemon-blueberry sweet rolls: blue for Mary, lemon for the bitterness her Son's suffering caused her, sweet rolls because they look like roses (one of her flowers). Mmm! Even Matt, who isn't always fond of sweet citrus, pronounced them good. They were pretty simple, too; if you would like to give them a try for the next Marian feast (Our Lady of Guadalupe, on Wednesday), the recipe is at the end.

Saturday afternoon was a little bit crazy, beginning when Little Bear and I showed up at the university music department for what I thought was my little sister's studio recital, but which turned out to be the winter gala concert of all the city youth ensembles. Oh no, a baby at the symphony concert? The dirty looks were something fierce when I slipped in--late, of course--and took a seat in the very back, intending to just listen to my sister's pieces and then run out before Little Bear could disturb anyone. To my surprise and delight, he loved it: he sat on my lap watching the musicians for an hour and a half without making a peep! Sure, I played with him a bit to distract him once or twice, but he was soooo good.

He made up for it at mass that evening, but we won't get into that.

Mass was also exciting because I found out as I was leaving the concert that my sister had been at rehearsal when the rest of the family went to mass that morning, and could she come with us? Little Bear, realizing that there was an extra person in the car, decided that the best course of action would be to scream at the top of his lungs all the way there and all the way back. What fun.

This morning we celebrated the Second Sunday of Advent at mass, moved the wise men a little closer to the crèche, and reveled just a bit in the knowledge that I'm not worrying about Christmas decorating just yet. I have a feeling that this may come back to bite me, but we are giving it a try, for this year at least. The wise men seem to be acquiring a retinue, or vanguard, or something... a porcelain cat and a ceramic ptarmigan have joined their trek to Bethlehem. We will see if they pick up the grizzly bear on the desk as they pass it next weekend...

Matt has a particular devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and Juan Diego, so we will be sure to celebrate her apparition on Wednesday; tonight, because I was too tired to be more creative, we made nachos for dinner and pretended that it was real Mexican food! Wednesday will be better, I promise; if not real Mexican food, at least real food period.

Credit where credit is due: the idea for these sweet rolls came from The Pioneer Woman, although I didn't use her recipe.

Lemon-Blueberry Sweet Rolls
Combine 2 1/2 teaspoons yeast and 2 cups flour in a large mixing bowl. Heat 1/3 cup melted butter, 1/3 cup sugar, and 1 cup milk until just warm (about 115*F) and beat into the flour and yeast. Beat 3 minutes (if using an electric mixer) or 10 minutes (if by hand). Add as much of 2 1/2 cups flour as you can get the dough to take, kneading until thoroughly combined in a firm dough. Let rise covered until it doubles, about an hour.
When risen, divide in half and allow to rest, covered, for 10 minutes before rolling out first ball into a rectangle 1/4" thick. Brush with melted butter. Sprinkle liberally with lemon sugar and blueberries. Roll up like a jelly roll and cut into rounds. (I got 10 out of one ball and 12 out of the other). Bake in ungreased 8" or 9" round cake pans at 375*F for 20 minutes or until tops are golden. Drizzle with lemon glaze and serve warm.

In a small bowl, combine 3/4 cup granulated sugar with 3-5 teaspoons lemon juice. Mix with your fingers (really!) until it reaches a consistency and lemony-ness that you think your family will like.

In a small bowl, combine 1 cup powdered sugar and up to 3 teaspoons lemon juice. Drizzle in water as needed to achieve the desired consistency.

07 December 2012

Seven Quick Takes Friday, Vol. 10

We have gone more than 24 hours with nothing breaking down! Is it sad that I'm excited about that? Yes, yes it is.

The other night, Matt was holding Little Bear while I cleaned up after dinner. Little Bear has learned to pull beards. From the living room, I suddenly hear a burst of wild baby giggles as Matt exclaims, "Ow! Not the hair of my chinny chin chin!" Ah, children's literature.

The first week of Advent is almost over! Has yours been as fruitful as you hoped? I have really appreciated our efforts to keep things simple this year: I have purple linen and the Advent wreath on the table, the three wise men are slowly journeying across the living room to the nativity scene, and we have been praying the Collect every night. No trappings of Christmas yet; it has been so nice to just focus on Advent!

Little Bear has heard an awful lot of "Veni Veni Emmanuel" and "People Look East" this past week, since I am holding off on Christmas hymns until the Christmas season. It would be nice to have a bit more variation, though; what are some other Advent hymns?

Tomorrow, Saturday, December 8, is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation. (Hint: that means that if you're Catholic, you HAVE to attend mass; willfully missing mass on a Sunday or holy day of obligation is a mortal sin.) Unfortunately, our diocese seems to be having trouble with this concept: there will be one vigil mass tonight at one parish in the area, and ALL of the other masses for the solemnity are being combined with the parishes' Sunday vigils. There are no morning or daytime masses on Saturday within at least an hour and a half's drive of us.

Dr. Ed Peters, a canon lawyer, says that one mass cannot satisfy two obligations.* We cannot make it to the vigil tonight due to Matt's work, so will be attending a Saturday evening mass for the holy day and a Sunday mass for our Sunday obligation. I hate to be suspicious of people, especially those who work for the Church, but I just don't understand how they can believe they are truly doing what is best for souls in their care by making fulfilling our obligations so difficult and confusing!

On a less frustrated note, I want to encourage you to go check out a friend's post about Our Lady, Destroyer of Heresy. That is one of my favorite titles of Our Lady, and I thought it quite apropos that she posted it on the feast of St Nicholas, smiter of heretics!

Have a great weekend! For more quick takes, visit ConversionDiary.com.


06 December 2012

Happy Feast of St Nicholas the Wonderworker!

 Little Bear wasn't quite sure what to make of the toy and shiny gold (chocolate) coin in his shoe this morning. As long as I didn't want to put the shoe on his foot, though, he was happy!

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra. Pious legend relates that the good bishop, when he learned that a poor man was going to sell his daughters into slavery because he couldn't afford to feed them and had no money for dowries, secretly dropped three bags of gold down the man's chimney to provide dowries for the girls. He is known for performing many good deeds and numerous miracles, including multiplication of wheat in a time of famine.

His feast day is also jokingly referred to as "punch a heretic day," because during the Council of Nicea, Nicholas lost his temper while arguing with his former student, Arius, who had denied the Godhood of Christ, and struck him in the face.

05 December 2012

Counting My Blessings

They say that you become your parents as you get older... while I doubt I'll ever be as much a Pollyanna as my mom, it surely wouldn't hurt me to try a little harder to find silver linings in the problems that somehow keep piling up. Especially since, if I take the time to look beyond my own little home bubble, I know that my "problems" are not really worth complaining about at all.

Sure, the car looks a wreck, but the other guy's insurance is getting it fixed. The "check engine" light came back on with the exact same problem code that we just paid the dealership to fix, but it went away all by itself. My thermometer reads -19, which is practically t-shirt weather after yesterday. And I needed a push to clean the fridge and freezer, anyway...

Last night we discovered half an inch of ice on the floor of both fridge and freezer, with water dripping from an unknown source and freezing on items and shelves in the fridge. After several hours of mopping up water and chipping away ice (punctuated by baby-tending), I figured out that the mess in the fridge was caused by water dripping from the iced-over freezer vent. I unplugged the refrigerator and allowed the whole thing to defrost and dry out all afternoon/evening.

Honestly, it was pretty frustrating; my chiropractor is going to scold for moving the refrigerator by myself, I saturated nearly all of our kitchen towels by the time I finished, and the baby screaming at the top of his lungs whenever I wasn't holding him added a hefty dose of stress and mommy-guilt. We got the vent fixed, though, and have a shiny clean fridge and freezer to boot. I'm so thankful, too, that this happened during the winter: I just threw all of our frozen food in a cardboard box and put it out on the front step until the freezer was cold again! There is something to be said for having a giant freezer (that doesn't affect the electric bill!) five or six months out of the year.

04 December 2012

Warm Up with Fruit Compote

Oh the weather outside is frightful... Truly, it was -37 F yesterday! Cold, snowy weather outside makes warm food inside particularly nice, though, and I've been looking for an excuse to make a warm, spicy dessert. Hot fruit compote just says "winter" to me: warm, full of cinnamon and cloves, not too sweet but still dessert... and such a delightful aroma!

Little Bear was VERY interested in my steaming bowl this evening, and we only narrowly avoided having it upset all over us (a trick he pulled a few days ago with a dish of tapioca). He is five months old now--how time flies! Soon he will be actually trying solid food instead of just staring at it as hard as he can. It really looks, at times, like he is trying to will the spoon to his mouth instead of mine. :-)

It's been quite a while since I posted a recipe, hasn't it? The fruit compote this evening was so easy and so delicious... give it a try!

Hot Fruit Compote
1 cup fresh, canned or frozen fruit per person (I used frozen peaches, strawberries, apricots, and mango)
1/4 cup water or fruit juice per person
cinnamon and cloves to taste

Combine all ingredients in a covered saucepan. Bring to a bare boil, then simmer uncovered until fruit is quite soft and the liquid has reduced by at least 25%.

Some people (like me) say that the longer you cook it the better it is, while others (like Matt) prefer a little structural integrity left in the individual pieces of fruit. Just let the fruit stew until it is as soft as you like.

30 November 2012

Seven Quick Takes Friday, Vol. 9

We are one-fifth of the way through winter! Only four more months until the snow starts melting; just 22 days until we start gaining light instead of losing it! Yes, I'm feeling optimistic today, why do you ask? It may be -31 F outside, but gas is down to $3.69 per gallon! Little Bear was startled by my suddenly bursting into the Happy Days theme song as we passed the gas station on the way home.

Advent begins on Sunday! How are you observing the season this year? I must admit, before this year I hadn't really realized that Advent is a time for penitential preparation for Christmas. I'm not sure how that escaped me in the past--the liturgical color is purple, and we omit the Gloria--but I can't recall ever being told that penitence is just as important as joyful preparation during this season. It certainly makes sense: Why would we prepare externally for Christ's coming without preparing internally as well?

Observing Advent as its own liturgical season and not just a tailgate party, if you will, for Christmas is a bit of a paradigm shift, so I've been doing a lot of reading to figure out what we should do this year. I'm sure open to suggestions, but this is what we are thinking so far:

Confession: We already try to go to confession once a month, but I'm hoping to go every other week during Advent; it's so much easier to keep focused on God when my heart is right with Him! Many of the parishes in our area offer penance services during Advent, with reflections followed by many priests available for individual confession.

Prayer: Matt and I both grew up lighting an Advent Wreath, but with different prayer traditions; his family lit it during dinner, and mine lit it during a family rosary in the evening. We aren't allowed to burn candles at all in our current apartment, plan to at least have the wreath as the focal point on our table, and add the week's Collect to our evening prayers. We used an Advent booklet of reflections and Scripture passages last year but weren't terribly impressed, so we are still looking for some kind of reading to use this year.

Home: How does one decorate for Advent? With simplicity, I suppose, given that it is a penitential season. I have some purple linen scrapers over the ironing board, waiting to be hemmed into a table cloth. The Advent wreath, crèche, and nativity icon will be ensconced prominently on the highest shelf in the living room, and we will try to stick with Advent chant instead of Christmas music as long as we can.

Some people feel strongly about waiting until Christmas Eve to put up any Christmas decor at all; I'm not one of them. It seems contrary to the idea if Advent-as-preparatory-time to make the day before Christmas a crazy, stressful disaster. Maybe their decoration isn't stressful; I'm guaranteed at least one or two calamities in the process. If we had a full four weeks of Advent, I think we would start decorating on the fourth Sunday, but since we really only have three weeks this year, we are planning to start during the third week.

Have a great weekend! Find more quick takes at ConversionDiary.com.

28 November 2012

Car Repairs:The Saga Continues

It's almost funny.

So our jeep started telling us that it was about to explode on Saturday, right? And we took it in to the shop and borrowed a suburban from my parents, which also proceeded to die on us? Well, it gets better.

Things actually did seem to improve; I was able to start the tank Monday afternoon, unable to start it Tuesday morning, able to start it again Tuesday afternoon. The dealership got our jeep in, and it was only a three-digit repair, thank heaven! We brought it home last night.

This morning, Matt went out to leave for work and discovered that a neighbor had backed into the newly-fixed jeep, shattering the bumper and front left headlight.

The bad news: it's going back to the shop, and we don't know how long it'll be before we have it again. The good news: the person who backed into us was responsible and left a note so we could get his insurance information. Also, Allstate may be renting us a replacement vehicle, since it was someone else's fault, so hopefully we won't have to worry about temperamental 20+ year old engines not starting (It's been hanging around -25 F so far this week, and it's scary taking the baby to town at these temperatures not knowing if the car will start when we come back out of the grocery store).

26 November 2012

New week, new start?

Not so much.

We left off last week with our car at the dealership, waiting to find out if they could even get us in Monday and how bad the "immanent engine failure" was. (That sounds ridiculous). We borrowed an '89 suburban--known to friends and family as "the beast", "the battletank", "the millennium falcon", etc--from my parents to drive in the meantime.

This morning, the tank, which has never failed to start in all the years my family has owned it, growled, blinked impertinently at Matt, and shut off immediately every time he tried to turn it on.

First lesson of the week: vehicles don't like us.

While Matt was fighting with the Falcon, I was optimistically taking advantage of Little Bear's waking us up a half hour early to run 'round the house gathering up laundry and bundling the bedding into the washing machine.

I was so proud to have the main chore for the day already underway... until halfway through the spin cycle, when Little Bear blew out his diaper all over his clothes, his chair, the white blanket my great-grandmother made when I was a baby, etc.

Started another load of laundry. It was a bit sparse, so I ran 'round the house again hunting up things that could possibly bear washing, and finally found enough for a load. Five minutes later, Little Bear threw up all over me, himself, the quilt his grandmother made, etc.

Second lesson of the week: procrastination leads to fewer loads of laundry.

(That's clearly what I'm supposed to extrapolate here, right?)

24 November 2012

Seven Quick Takes Friday, Vol. 8

It's Saturday again. So much so that it is Sunday where most of you are, in fact. But at least I'm posting, right? It has been a long week.

A very long week. It started with a trip to the doctor; Little Bear suddenly acquired an angry, peeling rash, which turned out to be either a fungal or bacterial infection... They weren't sure which, but gave us something to help with either, and it has mostly cleared up now.

Then water began dripping through the ceiling. Panicked that something would get stained and we wouldn't get our security deposit back, I moved all the furniture, spread plastic on the carpet, and called the landlord... who assured me that it was no big deal; he was just cleaning out the bathroom drain above us and "it must have flooded." No big deal? There is WATER coming through my CEILING...

More excitement: I have an excellent recipe for spiced cranberry relish, which I got from the proprietor of a little bookstore in downtown Steubenville, Ohio, that I make every Thanksgiving. As I was finishing ladling the relish into jars and wiping down the sides, I saw, to my horror, that there was a nasty moldy something in the bottom of one of my "clean" jars. Out came the relish back into the pot, to be boiled to death until I was satisfied that nothing bad could possibly still be lurking in it...

Today it was once again time to learn that even a heavy velvet floor-length skirt over leggings is no match for -25. So cold! I think feeling is coming back now...

Of course, one can only properly learn that lesson by being deprived of a nice, warm car in which to hide from the cold.

We had grand designs for this afternoon: picking up my sister, grocery shopping, the fabric store, confession, Mass. Halfway into town, the jeep began shuddering, and by the time we were on our way to the store the "check engine" light was blinking.

Why is it blinking? It doesn't usually blink.

I don't know; check the manual.

Um... It means immanent engine failure.


Now our vehicle is sitting at the dealership, waiting for Monday morning when they will hopefully be able to tell us what is wrong and whether we are getting a new transmission for Christmas instead of presents.

I hope your week was less stressful than ours here n the frozen northlands! At least it is warmer wherever you are, I expect. Have a good end of your Thanksgiving weekend, and I'll try to be on time next week!

21 November 2012

Our Storybook Life

I should have tackled National Novel Writing Month this year... all I would have needed to do is change some names and narrate all of the shenanigans life has been pulling recently! It has been quite the week already, and Thanksgiving isn't even here yet.

Once upon a time, there was a little family who lived in a little house way up north in the big snowy woods. Every day, Daddy Bear helped people talk to other people far, far away through a series of tubes, while Mommy Bear and Little Bear stayed home and kept house.

It was almost time for the Day of Thankfulness, a special day when the Bear family would join their friends and relatives and neighbors to thank God for all of His blessings in the past year, and to share a great feast. Now of course we thank God for His blessings every day, but the Day of Thankfulness only comes once a year, so Mommy Bear was all in a tizzy trying to make everything just so.

But nothing was working out the way she wanted it to, and the harder she worked, the worse things got! When Little Bear developed a fungal infection and water started dripping through the ceiling from the apartment above theirs in the same day, Mommy Bear threw up her hands, took off her apron, and closed her eyes.

Yep, that's where we were earlier... but that's why we can't stop reading a story in the middle. I'm sure there will be a happy ending eventually; let's flip to the end...

Mommy Bear looked around and realized how much she had to be thankful for: the ceiling was not dripping anymore, the medicine was helping Little Bear to get better, the house was clean, her food coming along. She thought of the story of Mary and Martha, and remembered that the most important thing she could bring to the Day of Thankfulness, more important than any material thing, was a grateful, peaceful soul.

Everything is going to be just fine. Life has calmed down a little, and for my part, I've stopped expecting more of myself than I can reasonably do with an infant. And yes, I know, it's not a novel... apparently I've been reading too many stories to Little Bear recently to be able to think in anything other than children's books! :-)

Have a blessed, peaceful Thanksgiving!

16 November 2012

Seven Quick Takes Friday, Vol. 7

Little Bear and I did make it to adoration yesterday, and he was incredibly good: he was wide awake and happy, looking around at everything and everyone, but did not make a sound for nearly a half hour!

It's getting cold again... We've had decent (above 0F) temperatures all week, but this morning it was -25 when we drove in to town! Poor Little Bear doesn't understand why going outside hurts so much... I try to keep his face covered between the car and buildings, but he doesn't like that either.

It's long past time to start plugging the car in at night, but I still haven't found a good outdoor timer that won't break when we need it most. You can recognize a veteran Alaskan's vehicle by the extension cord hanging out of the grill: it connects to the engine block heater, oil pan heater, and the like which keep the engine warm enough to start without too much strain at cold temperatures, and warm enough to start at all once it hits -50.

Yes, it does hit -50 here. I should probably stop complaining about -25 before God decides to remind me what real cold feels like...

Meanwhile, Matt is enjoying balmy above-zero temperatures up in Barrow, the farthest-north settlement in the United States. He is 500 miles north of us, on the coast of the Arctic Ocean, and it's a good 30 degrees warmer. Why did I turn down the chance to go with him on this business trip? I don't know.

Today is the last day that the sun will rise in Barrow until Spring. (This might be why I didn't go.) Matt almost wishes that he could stay one more day, to experience a day when the sun literally does not rise.

My mother says to be careful what you wish for, especially in Barrow. Transportation in Bush Alaska is notoriously touch-and-go. I for one am certainly hoping to have my husband home tonight!

Have a good weekend! Don't forget to check out more Quick Takes at ConversionDiary.com .

15 November 2012

Let the Little Ones Come to Him

"You should go to adoration more often! But find a sitter; no one wants you to bring your baby."

I was so happy this morning to realize that I have the car on the day that our cathedral offers adoration. It's right on the way from the bank to the chiropractor... I was joyfully arranging my day in my head for no more than thirty seconds, though, before I remembered what someone had said to me the last time I mentioned how much I missed adoration. "No one wants you to bring your baby."

I'm torn. I know that she didn't intend to insult -- she wasn't implying that Little Bear in particular is a badly-behaved child who doesn't belong in church. She was expressing a feeling which I've found very common among churchgoers: that at church, if your children cannot be seen and not heard, they should not be seen at all. That babies make noise, and noise distracts others from prayer, thus babies are an unwanted distraction at church.

But what is that supposed to tell a new mother? That she shouldn't even bother to strive for holiness until all of the children are old enough to keep quiet and not distract her? That her desire to spend time before the Blessed Sacrament is selfish? How many of the women who peer balefully at the her, popping in to adoration with an infant, are the same ones who told her to "pray for more grace" when she sighed in despair over her own mental and spiritual exhaustion? Oh, they meant to say "pray, but not in our church."

Then were little children presented to him, that he should impose hands upon them and pray. And the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said to them: Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to me: for the kingdom of heaven is for such.

Matthew 19:13-14

Now, there's clearly a difference between a mother kneeling and rocking a baby as he makes faint unhappy noises behind his pacifier, and a mother who ignores her child as he screams at the top of his lungs or crawls around getting in others' way. As parents, as parishioners, as human beings, we recognize the demands of common courtesy and step outside with a child who is becoming too great a disruption and needs to calm down.

But notice that Christ does not make such a distinction: He does not say, let the happy children come but forbid those noisy crying ones. He welcomes all of them, as He welcomes all of us. Surely no one could argue that it offends God to have a crying baby in church, when the baby is pure and innocent and the adults sitting there quietly are all sinners. If He wishes us to be in His presence, how much more must the presence of the innocent soul of the child please Him?

Having a child does affect the way the new parents participate in the life of the Church: a holy hour with an infant is impractical, unless the child falls asleep, but that does not preclude a briefer period of time before the Blessed Sacrament. We have to think more about where we sit now, positioning ourselves near an exit so that I can take Little Bear outside quickly if he gets upset, but that does not mean I don't bring him to church.

I think we will still try to make it to adoration today, for as long as Little Bear will keep quiet. Hopefully there will be a spot near the door, so that we can escape quickly when he is tired of being good. It will be good for me, too, to have such a good reminder that my mind should be on the one Who does want to see Little Bear and me there today.

13 November 2012

The Great Nap Experiments

Te Deum laudamus!

Two days in a row now, I've laid the sleepy Little Bear down with a pacifier, tiptoed around to the other side of the room, and stuck my head back over moments later to see him sound asleep. What progress!  I was getting so worn down by his refusal to nap unless I was holding him.  Now if only we could get this to carry over to bed time...  Last night was rough; he yelled and yelled until I got up to walk with him, immediately laying his head down and falling asleep as I moved, but waking again the moment I began to lay him back down.  He received a vaccine yesterday, though, so hopefully that (plus the teething) was the cause of our unusually fussy night.

Just in case anyone is concerned about him being on a bed and covered with a blanket (gasp of shock and horror!),  it is 20 degrees below zero today, and I was in the same room while he slept. 

09 November 2012

Seven Quick Takes Friday, Vol. 6

Giving in and starting chiropractic appointments for my back a few weeks ago: Good idea. My back hasn't felt like this in years, and the hip problems plaguing me since early pregnancy have gotten much better.

Taking Little Bear with me to the chiropractor this morning: Bad idea. He screamed and screamed and screamed... and has continued to do so, with a few breaks, ever since. So maybe it wasn't the chiropractor's office that upset him; bringing a teething baby anywhere is just plumb foolish, though, anyway.

Splitting up Little Bear's four-month shots between the past Monday and next: Undecided. Good, because I don't like him having so many at once; bad, because if this week is any indication, we are going to have at least two days next week of screaming and throwing up following the vaccines. Poor child...

Working out and burning off the baby weight: Good idea. It feels so good to be back in a regular pattern of vigorous exercise, which I'm finally able to do as the chiropractor is helping to fix my hip problems.

Pulling muscles in the backs of both calves: Bad idea. Granted, this one wasn't intentional; I overdid it on the elliptical machine yesterday, and am walking like a bowlegged old pirate today... or sitting down, which sure hurts a lot less, but doesn't help Little Bear fall asleep.

Arranging to have a family portrait taken this evening by a friend who is a professional photographer: Good idea, I guess. It is, it really is -- he will do an excellent job, and we don't have a post-birth family portrait yet, and now I get to feel all smug and accomplished by having something crossed off my Christmas prep to-do list. I'm just nervous about getting Little Bear to cooperate, and having both of us looking nice when Matt and JR get to the house, and having dinner properly underway while still keeping baby happy and both of our nice clothes clean...

Stressing about things I have no control over: Bad idea. Really, we all know that already, but it's definitely an area I still need to work on. Life is just going to get crazier from now through the new year; I'm going to make an extra effort these next two months to not let all of the silly little worries get to me.

 That's all for today! Check out more Quick Takes at ConversionDiary.com!

07 November 2012

Technical Difficulties

It's been hard to write recently, mainly because the only time I am really sitting down with nothing else to do is when I'm feeding Little Bear, and it is hard to reach the computer around an eating/sleeping baby. Formerly, I could post from my phone; with the release of iOS 6, though, they broke mobile Safari compatibility with Blogger, so I've been stuck. This morning it finally occurred to me to check for a Blogger app... and here we are. I do feel a bit silly now.

Does anyone else have that problem? Finding themselves caught in the mindset of "this is how I do X, and now it doesn't work, so I guess I just can't do X"? It's not usually a problem I have with technology, but I do notice that tendency in other areas of my life. A big one is prayer: "I pray when I have the time; now the baby takes up most of my time, so I can't pray much." Most of us probably have that uncomfortable voice in the back of our minds from time to time, telling us that we ought to be praying more. I know I do. But so often I hush it with "I'm too busy; not enough time today, remind me later." Do I get around to it later? Not often enough.

These past few days, I've been thinking about how different Little Bear's childhood will be from my own. There isn't much I can do to get rid of all of the problems and bad influences out in the world, but I've realized that there is one very important thing I can do to prepare him: I can make our home a place of love and prayer, and try to set him an example by really putting God and His Church first, not just giving Him the leftover scraps of time at the end of the day.

It won't happen overnight, I know, but it'll be something to continue working at for the rest of our lives. As a first step, I'm trying to replace some of the time I waste online with time in prayer and spiritual reading, probably starting with the Confessions of St Augustine. That's right, I'm taking a break from Facebook and Twitter; not deleting my accounts yet, but not logging in every day either. We will see how it goes!

03 November 2012

Seven Quick Takes Friday, Vol. 5

I know, it's Saturday. Better late than never?

"Black Friday is Coming" sneak peek ads began cropping up for some local retailers on November 1. Really? This is unacceptable.

Matt's mother sent Little Bear one of my favorite baby books, Pat the Bunny, and it arrived earlier this week. He has probably heard it twenty times by now... He seems content while we read it to him, but he refuses to pat the bunny: He balls up his hand into a fist, and pulls away from the book.

Speaking of Little Bear, he has been trying out a new nap schedule recently: He stubbornly stays awake all morning, naps straight from noon to 3 or 4, and then alternates cat naps and yelling because his gums hurt until bedtime. It's better than last week's "never taking any naps" scenario, but still not ideal. How do you teach a baby to take regular naps when he isn't tired?

I'm so happy to have recently discovered Frazz, a daily comic strip about a triathlete/songwriter/elementary school janitor.  It has been a very enjoyable read while I'm stuck sitting down feeding Little Bear.  Good *clean* humor, philosophy, insight, classic literature references... it's been quite a while since I've found something that makes me laugh and think (at the same time) as much as this comic strip.

The new Franciscan Way magazine showed up in our mailbox yesterday. I was flipping through it this afternoon, and the first line of one of the bios caught my eye. It sounded awfully familiar, but I couldn't understand why... until I reached the end of the piece and saw my name at the bottom! Oops; I'd forgotten all about writing it. It's so much more fun to see your name in print when you aren't expecting it!

Sweet potatoes cook more quickly than regular potatoes. I learned this the hard way while making dinner tonight: we wound up eating roasted sausage and potatoes sort of covered in mushed sweet potatoes, instead of having nice firm cubes of sweet potatoes with the other two. At least it was colorful!

It is officially bazaar season in Fairbanks! This weekend marked the start of a whirlwind of local bazaars: our parish, the Lutheran church across town, and the University Women's Association all hosted their bazaars this weekend, featuring an impressive array of items from hometown artists. I was disappointed that we couldn't make it to our parish's, but we've already made the hour-plus round trip several times this week and will be going again tomorrow, and Matt was working from home today (I didn't want to make the trip on potentially icy roads by myself with the baby).

01 November 2012

Communion of Saints

Happy Feast of All Saints! Don't forget that today is a holy day of obligation: all Catholics must attend Mass. If you haven't made it yet, many parishes will be holding Masses this evening.

Matt works quite late tonight, which is disappointing; I wanted to make a special meal to celebrate the feast day, but by the time he gets home, we will both be too tired and the baby will be on his way to bed. We had fun making a big deal out of Little Bear's nameday on Sunday, though, so we got one feast day celebration in this week. We were also able to attend Mass together this morning before Matt went to work, and we plan to pray a litany together tonight after he gets home.

For the month of November, our parish is displaying a number of relics for veneration, many borrowed from other local parishes. During his homily this morning, our pastor named some of the saints whose relics we are fortunate enough to have: There is a large reliquary with a number of Jesuits, a slightly smaller reliquary with a number of Franciscans, and quite a few individual reliquaries, including St. Nicholas, St. Therese of Liseux, and St. Gerard Majella, patron of expectant mothers.

Hearing St. Gerard's name, I only just managed to stifle a startled laugh. A year ago, I was working in the office of my parents' parish. Matt and I had only been married a couple of months, and while we were telling God that He could give us a child whenever He thought we were ready, if you had asked us our plans for the next year or two, "kids" would not have been on the list. So when I walked into my office one morning to find a relic of St. Gerard sitting on my desk, I was rather nonplussed. I texted Matt, flustered, and he tried to reassure me that someone must have just set it there because they didn't know where it belonged.

Less than a week later, the pregnancy test said +.

Isn't it something to experience the interaction of the communion of saints? As soon as we saw the result, any previous misgivings or hesitations were gone. We were both filled with joy and anticipation for something that the mere idea, just a week previous, had panicked me. I'm convinced that it was through St. Gerard that our hearts learned to look forward to God's plan, a new little boy, even more than we had looked forward to our own plans -- everything we thought we wanted sounds so empty now without Little Bear! We invoked St. Gerard's intercession numerous times after that throughout my pregnancy. His presence this month in our parish, full of children and growing families, seems most appropriate!

26 October 2012

Seven Quick Takes Friday, Vol. 4

A friend of mine was shot Wednesday night, and has been flown out of state to Seattle for treatment. He is still in critical condition. Please pray for him, his family, and the repose of the soul of the young man who shot him (who killed himself).

Having a deployed spouse must be one of the hardest things in the world; Matt was in Anchorage for work this week, just one week, and it was no fun at all. Never having another adult around the house to talk with, another set of arms to hold the crying baby, another voice to sing to him when mine grew hoarse, had me at my wits end long before Daddy finally came home. Dinner at Grandma and Grandpa's house on Wednesday saved my sanity...

It didn't help that Little Bear, picking up on the fact that something was wrong, completely gave up the nice sleep schedule he had established -- he would not stay asleep more than 45 minutes at a go, day or night, the entire time his daddy was gone.

Little Bear's middle-of-the-night wakefulness had one bright spot: each night, I was awake while the northern lights were dancing. They are harder to see in our densely-populated neighborhood than they are at my parents' house... I miss waking up late at night as a kid, throwing coat and snowboots over pajamas, and running outside to stare up at the huge, starry sky split by dancing green and pink bands of light. We can still see them somewhat here, if we stay away from streetlights and peer up between houses, but it isn't the same.

Can you believe that it's been nearly a year since the new translation of the Mass was implemented? I realized that during Mass today. It has been such a blessing... sadly, we still encounter instances of priests ad libbing parts of the Mass, but that seems to have decreased to some degree since we switched to the new translation.

Given that we've had a year (longer, in our parish) to become accustomed to the new responses, I oughtn't still be struggling with any of them. I do, though, with the Lord, I am not worthy... and I've only just realized why: it's not the words of the response I'm tripping over, but the language. The part just before that response, when the priest says "Behold the Lamb of God..." was (and in some instances still is) a favorite place to ad lib for some local priests, and because it upset me so much that they dared interpose themselves into such an important part of the liturgy, the only way I could avoid having my concentration broken and becoming angry was to concentrate on the proper words in Latin instead of English.

It eventually became instinctive, and now, every time we reach that point in the Mass, the priest is still speaking English but I am only hearing Latin. When we go to respond, then, I automatically begin to say "Domine, non sum dignus," catch myself, tell myself to use English, and wind up half a beat behind everyone else, flustered and trying to make my tongue hurry and remember the right English words.

Many apologies for the infrequent posts recently; Little Bear was unhappy and clingy the whole time Matt was gone, so it was difficult to find opportunities to write. I'll be working on a freelance writing project for the next couple weeks as well, so the bulk of my writing time will be going to that. I'll do my best to put up more than just the Seven Quick Takes each week, though!

That's all for today... more Quick Takes at ConversionDiary.com!

25 October 2012

A matter of perspective

I have been all set, these past few days, to write a post lamenting the dreadful, horrible, insufferable weather we've been having... each grey morning the thermometer displayed a new low, and my spirits dipped lower and lower with the temperature. On the drive in to early morning Mass yesterday, it was -16 F! (That's pronounced "sixteen below," for the non-Alaskans out there.) But then last night, as I carried Little Bear out to the car after having dinner with Grandma and Grandpa, everything was different: the moonlight sparkled on the snow, the air was clear and still... and warm. It felt warm outside.

More cheerful about weather and winter than I've been in nearly two weeks, we kept an eye out for a thermometer as we drove home. The first few were displaying the time or the Celsius temperature as we passed; it wasn't until we were nearing our development that I spotted a thermometer proclaiming it to be all of 9 degrees out.

What? No, it was wrong. It had to be. Not a week ago, I was complaining about warmer temperatures than that. Surely it was at least 32 F... it felt so nice!

The next thermometer confirmed it, though, and I was forced to admit again what I forget and re-learn each year: It doesn't matter how cold it is -- if it is at least ten degrees warmer than it just was, it will feel pleasant. -20 degrees feels like shirtsleeve weather after a week of -40 degrees.

Am I done complaining about the cold for the winter? Not likely! As much warmer as it may feel to me, I still do need to be mindful of the temperature for the baby's sake. But now that I've been reminded of how pleasant even a small rise in temperature can be, I hope it will be easier to keep the next cold spell in perspective.

19 October 2012

Seven Quick Takes Friday, Vol. 3.5

I know, I sort of did seven quick takes on Monday, but that counted for last Friday instead of today, right?

It finally stopped snowing yesterday afternoon! The sparkly white wonderland out my window looks so much less depressing under a bright blue sky with the sun shining down. I have not quite reconciled myself to its being winter yet, but I am certainly much less miserable about it. The snow outside even makes the room brighter, as it reflects the natural light in to us.

I can hear some people thinking "Oh, the sun is shining. What is she complaining about? The snow will be gone soon." Sorry to disappoint, but that isn't how it works here... Since Alaska is so much closer to the Pole, the angle of the earth has a much greater impact on our climate. In the summer, this means that the sun is hot and high in the sky, but in winter the sun is lower on the horizon, eventually so low that we will barely see it. The low angle, and the brief period of exposure each day, mean that the sun doesn't provide enough heat to melt the snow. Even though the sun was shining brightly at 2 pm yesterday, it was still only 25* F outside.

"Be not afraid..." All of my dire fears of what could go wrong on our trip were completely unnecessary; so far from spitting curdled milk at the passenger behind us or all over the rental car, Little Bear didn't throw up a single time, the whole trip! (He waited until we were at the library yesterday, far from a change of clothes for mommy... but that doesn't make me any less grateful!) Yet another reminder not to worry... I know that it never does me any good, and that a problem won't be any worse for my not having worried myself sick over it, but it can be so difficult to just let go and say "Whatever You will," taking things as they come.

Little Bear seems to have taken his entire week's worth of naps while we were traveling... He hasn't taken a nap longer than 45 minutes since we got home. One sleep habit he does seem to have retained from our trip, though, has been so welcome: falling back to sleep at night. Before we left, he would usually need to be held and walked at least once in the middle of the night. Since the trip, though, he has been willing to eat and doze off quickly whenever he wakes up at night.

Today was my second chiropractor appointment. Toward the end of the first trimester with Little Bear, I developed problems with my hips, often with pain to the point that I couldn't walk. I saw a couple of physicians, and the consensus was that it was probably being caused by pregnancy hormones and would go away after birth. Six weeks postpartum it still hadn't cleared up, and my midwife suggested that the offending hormones (if it was hormone-related) might be present until Little Bear stopped nursing. A few weeks ago, I finally gave in and booked an appointment with a chiropractor to find some relief in the meantime. So far, so good... I can't feel much difference in my hips yet, but the related pain at the base of my spine has decreased dramatically.

We're all fortunate that Little Bear isn't old enough to realize that the pictures on the pages have something to do with what mommy is saying. Years of reading the same stories over and over to my siblings mean that now, I can recite Goodnight Moon while paging through Field & Stream, and the baby doesn't know the difference!

There's one particular story which, even though I have it memorized, I could never do that to: The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and The Big Hungry Bear, by Don and Audrey Wood. The illustrations are too much fun. We read that book so frequently, Little Bear may have it memorized by the time he can talk!

Done for this week... check out more Quick Takes at ConversionDiary.com!

17 October 2012

Be sure you take lots of photos! Vacation 2012

Our first family vacation. Homecoming, introducing Little Bear to his daddy's side of the family, roadtrips, plane flights, a wedding. Of course, everyone reminded us to take as many pictures as possible. How many do I have? Two. And they are both of Little Bear lying on nondescript pieces of furniture making faces.

We will just have to hope that, if a picture is worth a thousand words, a few words may make up for the photographic record I should have brought home... or, we could use stick figures!

Vacation 2012 Highlight Reel

Little Bear was a wonderful traveler... he slept nearly the entire time we were on planes and in the car. Matt joked that we should get a jet engine to lull him to sleep at home.

We saw so many friends over Homecoming. It felt strange to be back on campus and know very few current students, especially among our households, but it was good to see so many people whom we hadn't spent time with in the past two years.

Little Bear was so good and quiet those nights to thank his Aunt Kimmy for sharing her room!

Our nephew, John and Karen's son, was afraid of Matt's beard when he was a baby... During our visit, he reminded everyone, "Don't be scared of Uncle Matt!" We spent an enjoyable, relaxing Sunday afternoon through Thursday afternoon with Matt's family in Pennsylvania.

We stopped back in Steubenville Thursday night on our way to Cleveland for Hank and Megan's wedding, and spent the night in Harrison and Ian's attic. After starting Friday morning off properly with tea, we had to show Uncle Ben Little Bear's new hat before picking Mark up for the drive to Cleveland.

Lindsay, my little sister in household who hadn't made it to Homecoming, drove out to see us Saturday morning at our hotel. Her little one is so big! I can't wait until Little Bear is that size.

The wedding was lovely. Matt was a groomsman; I'm so glad that we were able to come so he could be there for Hank! It was a long day for Little Bear, though... the wedding party went off and took pictures for four hours (!!!) between the wedding and reception, which lasted long into the night. "Uncle Harry," Kevin, and Beth all helped to keep the baby quiet, but he couldn't seem to fall asleep. By the time we put him to bed for the night, he was so tired that he slept 7 hours straight! (More than an hour and a half longer than his previous record).

Sunday morning, before getting on a plane home, we were fortunate enough to attend Mass in the Extraordinary Form at St. Stephen Catholic Church in Cleveland with Mark and Harrison. Little Bear was as quiet as a pacifier could make him... it's difficult, with him being too little to understand that there are times when he can't make any noise. I'm sure it is just as frustrating for him as it is for us. He was good, though, and the Mass was so beautiful!

The trip home was uneventful, thankfully, and we fell exhausted into bed when we finally arrived at 2:30 am. It was a wonderful 10 days, and we just wish we had had more time to spend with everyone!

(Drawn in Adobe Illustrator)

Fluffy cloud innards

The snow hasn't completely stopped falling for any appreciable length of time since we got home early Monday morning. There will soon be three inches of snow on the fence. Every little notch of every tree, each loop of the neighbor's chain-link fence, bears a fluffy white cap. The downy grey of the sky softens any color which would be too bright for this Christmas card landscape. It is so beautiful... and so horribly disappointing.

When we left home for Ohio, it was autumn, if chilly. Ohio and Pennsylvania were both experiencing autumn as well, a glorious riot of color and not-too-nippy breezes. Returning home to a dusting of snow was a shock, but it was not unreasonable to hope for one last reprieve: more often than not, several dustings will fall and then melt before the snowfall that "sticks," as we say, forming the layer that will be the last to melt come next April.

When it snows this steadily, for this long, without even the briefest jump above freezing, though... winter is here. We may yet get a brief thaw, although I'm not getting my hopes up, but it will not be warm again until spring.

Don't mind me, I'll just go listen to the soundtrack of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and commiserate with the poor animals who endured years and years of winter under Jadis' rule...

15 October 2012

Jet Lag

Whoa... Long week, wonderful trip, nowhere near enough sleep. There will be a real post soon, I promise, but for now here are a few quick takes:

Snow. The first thing I noticed as we made the final descent into Fairbanks last night was the dusting of snow on the runway. Oh, no we groaned. Please let it all be gone by morning? It wasn't. In fact, it has been snowing steadily off and on since we woke up. Ohio was so nice and warm... I wasn't ready to come home and confront winter just yet.

The Flying White Noise Machine. The baby was so *good* on all of our flights! He was asleep before takeoff every single time, only woke up enough to eat briefly, and went back to sleep without fussing. Several times, as we were disembarking, people in the rows in front of or behind us expressed surprise at seeing a baby with us -- they'd had no idea he was even there.

Nouns. I'm not sure why, but we've taken to referring to objects in terms of what they do in relation to Little Bear: the flying white noise machine, the box of lights and sounds, mommy's (or daddy's) talking box, the child-quieter. Have we been very tired for the past week and a half? Yes.

The Heroic Moment. It is so hard to practice St Josemaria Escriva's "heroic moment" when you got home from the airport at 2:30 am... Is it cheating to wake up and say the morning offering, but stay in bed feeding the baby for a while?

Leave. Several months ago when we booked our tickets, Matt decided to take one extra day of vacation -- the day we got home -- rather than going directly in to the office. After getting home so dreadfully late, I'm so glad that he did! How in the world would we have gotten him out the door, with breakfast and lunch, four hours after going to bed? It would have been miserable.

Weddings. I am so grateful that we could be present to witness the wedding of our friends Hank and Megan this weekend! As we flew home, Matt and I found ourselves talking about our own wedding, remembering some of the choices we made that probably drove many people crazy, but so happy with how everything turned out. We pray that the newlyweds will have as blessed and joy-filled a first year of marriage as we did!

Sleep. I definitely need to take advantage of the baby napping on me to take a nap myself... Everything is unpacked, washed, and organized, the house cleaned, and dinner prepared, so I can doze for a bit with a clear conscience. More later!

05 October 2012

Seven Quick Takes Friday, Vol. II

Travel edition
It has been a crazy week of preparing for our first real trip with Little Bear. Worrying, and packing, and worrying, and cleaning, and worrying... I don't think I've ever dreaded getting on an airplane this much before. We're spending 15 hours on planes and in airports today, with another two to three hours on the road after we land. And this is just the first day! St. Christopher, pray for us!

If anyone has any tips for traveling (flying or road trips) with a baby, I'd love to hear them! How to keep him happy in a small space for hours on end, how to convince him to sleep in strange places, what to do if he has a diaper explosion while the "fasten seatbelts" light is on, how to prevent overstimulation when he will be bombarded with many new faces and voices and strange people wanting to hold him, how to respond if, while one of us is holding him up in the air, he throws up and gets the guy in the seat behind us in the face...

I need to stop coming up with new ideas of what could go wrong. But seriously, how would you apologize to that guy?

Alaska Airlines has a special program called Club 49 for Alaska residents, which offers great benefits. Up to 50% discounts on last-minute flights, exclusive sales, and most valuable just now, two free checked bags on all flights into or out of Alaska! I have been so grateful to not have to worry about baggage costs on top of everything else as I've been packing: it would be even more stressful if I was trying to pack everything into our carry-ons and had to decide how little we could possibly get by with rather than packing what I think we will need.

I'm looking forward to enjoying a bit of the beautiful, extended autumn back East. Winter is fast approaching here -- we have woken up to heavy frost on the lawn and windshield every morning for a while now, and it's lasting as late as noon or 1 pm. This past Sunday, we drove through some snow flurries on our way to Mass. Too soon!
Little Bear's hair comes down past his earlobes; I've been holding off, but I may just give in and cut it before his grandparents see him looking like a ragamuffin. I'd always heard to wait until the baby is at least one for their first haircut, but I can't see us waiting nine more months! Matt didn't seem to appreciate my observation the other day that the baby has Spock sideburns... :-)

Hopefully I'll have a chance to post at least once or twice next week, but no promises... I'm anticipating an even more hectic week than this has been.

Visit ConversionDiary.com for more Quick Takes!