31 December 2013

Happy Christmas Octave!

...and New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, Solemnity of Mary the Theotokos, Circumcision of Christ, etc!

We hope that you and yours are having a blessed octave of Christmas! Matt has a whole week and a half off--definitely one of the best perks of working for the university system--and we've been enjoying a visit from his college roommate, so my internet time has been all but nonexistent, but once my world slows back down to its normal pace I'll be back to writing more regularly.

20 December 2013

SQTF 70: Five Days!

The neighbor's yard decorations have inspired a few double-takes recently:

"Is that Vader?"
"I think it's a penguin?"
"Why's it holding a red light saber?"

Christmas prep is chugging along merrily here, at what would be a terrifyingly slow rate if I wasn't unfathomably relaxed about the whole thing this year. "Oh, there's twelve days of Christmas... I'll get ______ baked eventually." This is not me, and it's pretty weird when I actually think about it, but it's really nice to be so peaceful five days before Christmas! I've accomplished roughly one Christmas-prep thing off my list each day, and some days it's as small as moving the furniture around to make room for the as-yet-unharvested tree (yesterday). 

What's left on the list? Well, the only things that really do need to be done before Christmas are wrapping presents, getting and decorating a tree, and prepping for Christmas dinner, I guess. Some time between now and New Years, preferably on the sooner end, I still want to make toffee bars, Hershey kiss cookies, fudge, stollen, and lefse. The stollen might have happened yesterday, but I used all of my yeast yesterday morning making four loaves of French bread for Matt.

Even though they work up through 5pm Christmas Eve, Matt's department is having their Christmas party today. He wanted to bring an elaborate Italian sandwich that he grew up enjoying: pan bagno.

There's a lot of prep work involved! You definitely want to have everything sliced before you start putting it together.

Because there are so many ingredients, he scooped some bread out of the inside of the top halves so they could settle down over things. The bread then got rubbed down with smashed garlic cloves, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.

Starting on the flat bottom piece, he layered the sliced tomatoes, red onion, and fresh basil...

...diced kalamata olives, capers, and thinly-sliced gherkins...

...hard-boiled eggs, roasted red peppers, and flaked tuna, and then topped them off with full-length leaves of romaine and the top piece of the loaf. He wrapped them tightly---twice---in plastic wrap, then a layer of aluminum foil, and put them in the fridge with a cutting board and a bunch of free weights on top overnight. I wish I'd gotten a photo of that!

I read somewhere that December 23 is the busiest shopping day of the year. Hopefully, we will be able to avoid it; last night we hammered out a menu for the first Christmas dinner we will ever have made together, so that I can try to finish the shopping today. (There's also the uncomfortable fact that we are completely out of meat, again, so I have to go to at least one store today anyway.) Our plan for Christmas dinner: a moose roast in the crock pot, oven-roasted root vegetables with rosemary, green beans sautéed with garlic and pine nuts, dinner rolls, a strawberry-rhubarb gelatin salad, and pecan pie. It's kind of a ridiculous amount of food for three people, one of them a toddler, but it's a major feast day! And I'm looking forward to having leftovers around.

Quite possibly the best decision I made this Advent was starting to bake mini loaves of quickbreads and freezing them at the beginning of December. Now whenever someone calls and asks if they can drop by, I don't panic over running around trying to find not-too-dark cookies (yes, all of my cookies got "toasty" this year... sometimes the toddler has to be carried out of the kitchen more than once before you can open the oven...) to put together a plate for them; I just pull a loaf of Christmassy bread out of the freezer, maybe even stick a bow on it if there's no one clinging to my ankles, and voila.

It's been a season of firsts. First time doing Christmas dinner at home as a family. First time attempting the lefse (a soft Norwegian flatbread with potatoes) and Christstollen (German fruit cake). First time baking, oh, most of the cookies I've done so far! First time making sugared almonds---which are way too hard to stop eating, and should definitely be made closer to Christmas next year. First time Little Bear has seen candles (on our Advent wreath), and been very excited to try and blow them out. First Christmas with a child old enough to, not understand what's going on yet, but be caught up in the wonder of all of the changes slowly happening. It's been such a special Advent for us, and I'm sure the Christmas season will be as well.

Don't forget to visit Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes!

18 December 2013

Happy Christmas Trilobites

Yesterday was kind of crazy, in the sense of running around town for hours and finally getting home seven hours after leaving... only to turn around and head back out to pick Matt up from work two hours later. The jeep is finally fixed, though, hopefully; the misfires did follow the suspect coil when they switched it to a different cylinder, so that's been replaced and so far we haven't seen the check engine light back on.

Unfortunately, the incredibly off-schedule day meant that somebody took less than an hour total of nap, and was very cranky indeed by supper time. Ever the optimist (i.e. Ack, there are so many things left on my to-do list!!!), I thought I'd try to make a batch of cookies after supper before bedtime anyway. Easy cookies. Quick cookies. Spritz cookies.

My mom recently passed along a spare cookie press she found, and I've been excited to try it. For some reason, a cookie press is one of the unique tools that I've always associated with people who are pros at baking, so having one of my own makes me feel a little more confident that I'm "doing it right." I know, it's silly. And I certainly don't think that you have to have a cookie press to do Christmas cookies properly! It's just a prominent memory from childhood, I guess.

Last week I took a photo of Mom's spritz cookie recipe, so I pulled that up and followed along with the faded, smudged, well-worn instructions. Some of the steps--and ingredients--seemed kind of strange, but they apparently didn't set off enough warning bells until it was too late: Matt and Little Bear came into the kitchen to watch me work the cookie press, and Matt swiped a bite of dough. And made a face. "What is in this? And what shape are you making those?" 

Apparently, lime trilobites just don't say "Christmas".

In retrospect, how did it not occur to me that surely I would remember if my mother had actually mixed a packet of lime jello into the cookie dough each year? If I don't remember ever, ever seeing that happen, surely she used food coloring instead? I can't count how many times in the past few months I've asked for a recipe and she's handed me the card, but with a whole bunch of caveats: don't use X, use Y; double the spices; you really don't need to use all that sugar; I don't really make it like this. My mom's recipe cards are more like guidelines, really.

And lime. Of course I picked lime; my husband doesn't like sweet citrus. Now there are heaps and mounds of lime-flavored trilobites in my kitchen, and no one but myself and possibly the toddler to eat them. I guess I have something unique to give our neighbors!

On the plus side, the cookie press works great! There's about one more tray worth of green dough in the freezer; if I decide it's worth pulling it out and baking those too, I'll try to find the tree die instead of the trilobite!

15 December 2013

Third Sunday of Advent

We didn't have a chance to take a photo today, so I can't join up with the gals at Fine Linen and Purple, but definitely go see everyone over there! Hopefully next week I'll be able to participate again.

This weekend, though, deserves a post... and Little Bear finally fell asleep on my lap, so I can't go do anything productive, and I definitely can't risk waking him by laying him down, so I guess I'm writing.

My calendar said that this was going to be a pretty simple, low-key weekend. Being me, I interpreted that as an invitation---an imperative, really---to come up with a crazy long to-do list. So when extra things suddenly began popping onto the calendar? Whew. It's been kind of crazy.

Friday we were supposed to attend a dinner for folks involved with the local Catholic radio station. Little Bear decided that that wasn't going to happen: very little sleep the night before, very little nap, very little interest in doing much other than yelling. We were going to have to stay home. But by that point I had the car so we had to go pick Matt up after work anyway, and my brother got home from Ohio for break about the same time Matt got off work, so we ran up to my family's house for a short visit before bringing Little Bear home for an early bedtime. The unfamiliar bearded uncle was apparently intimidating, because Little Bear hardly made a sound while we were there!

Saturday morning, Matt wanted to run to town and do his present-shopping, and Little Bear and I were going to stay home and bake cookies and clean the apartment. The boy was so sad to see Daddy getting ready to leave, though, and brought him his boots so hopefully, that we wound up heading to town with him. Matt dropped us off at the grocery store while he went somewhere else, then came in and found us to help me pick out better windshield wipers since ours just smear stuff around and create ice everywhere.

Did you know that winter windshield wipers only come one in a package? It's dreadful. And we didn't figure that out until he went to install the new ones today, so I guess I'm going back to the store tomorrow.

After the grocery store, Matt dropped us at the thrift store (yay!) while he went one more place. Little Bear decided that he was all done riding in carts and being carried, and pushed the cart all over the store for me. We basically ran around in circles for twenty minutes instead of actually looking at clothes, but I don't really need more clothes anyway; I'm just glad that I started in the men's section so that I had picked out the sweaters Matt'd asked for before my little man decided to play truck driver---complete with "vroom, vroom" sound effects.

Little Bear had happily worn himself out driving the cart, and took a great nap when we got home. We skyped with a good friend from college later in the afternoon, then I scrambled to do all of my housecleaning and bake cookies and five loaves of cranberry bread (because I'm a crazy person) before another friend came over for supper. I was so glad to see Little Bear warm up to her after we ate; he's very wary of people whom he doesn't know well, especially when they're in his house.

Today, Gaudete Sunday, I actually did manage to wear liturgical rose to Mass, plus a heavy sprinkling of sparkles that kept Little Bear poking my shirt and laughing. He was very quiet during Mass, though! I knew that we couldn't stay too long after Mass because we were picking up one of Matt's coworkers, but since Mass concluded earlier than usual, I was happy to be able to be included in the meeting of the women of the parish to plan for Christmas setup, decorating, and the annual Christmas potluck. I know that we are young, and you can't expect to feel at home in a new parish right away or even for quite a while, and many, many people in the Catholic community in our area really can't help but see me primarily as my parents' daughter... but every time we go to the university parish, we feel like we are unquestioningly accepted as Catholic adultsIt sounds funny, but the fact that no one was surprised or expressed happiness that I came over to join the other women in the planning meeting ("Oh, I'm so glad you want to help!", etc) meant a lot to me.

Of course I stood around talking, and Matt and Little Bear eventually got tired of running around outside and went out to the car to wait for me. We got to the uhaul place where we were supposed to meet his coworker right on time, though... But he wasn't there. He called a few minutes later and said that he was running late and would need about 40 minutes. Well, we were on the opposite side of town from home; it was definitely nap time, but it would've been a huge waste of gas for Matt to run us home and then drive back out to pick the guy up. It's -7, so too cold to just play in the snow with Little Bear for the next half hour... in fact, doing something warm sounded like a very good idea. And the Barnes & Noble down the road had a huge fireplace.

Matt attempted to install our new windshield wipers (and discovered that there was only one) while Little Bear and I went inside and found the duplo table. He had a grand time stacking them into towers--he hasn't learned about pressing them together yet, so the towers were also fun to knock down. After Matt joined us, we enjoyed the fireplace and big comfy chairs until it was time to head back to the uhaul place.

Now we are home, the sleeping toddler peacefully snoring as he sprawls half on my lap, half on the couch. I can't quite see my still-enormous weekend to-do list from where I'm sitting, and that's probably for the best. We will light the pink candle on the Advent wreath tonight, and I'll bake a batch of cookies, a simple kind, maybe shortbread. Perhaps Matt will dig out some Christmas CDs... do we even have any? There's always YouTube. And everything else can just wait, and the world won't end. My goal for the last hours of our Sunday is peace, peace and joy. Gaudete, rejoice!

13 December 2013

SQTF 69: Second Week of Advent

The weather clearly knows that my brother is on his way home for Christmas break today. After a good week and a half of wonderfully warm weather, we woke up this morning to -16 F windchill. Wind. Here. In the wintertime. We so rarely get any wind ever, and what little we do get usually happens in the spring and fall. The novelty of winter wind and swirling snow definitely does not make up for how insidiously those icy fingers of wind get through all of your layers of clothing... Brr!

We can forgive my brother for bringing the Ohio weather with him, though, because we have all been looking forward to seeing him. Little Bear wasn't even standing steadily when he left in August, and now he runs! It will be fun to see them interact, and see if Little Bear recognizes his uncle at all. When I came home from college on breaks, our baby sister couldn't really tell me apart from my next-younger sister, but there's no one for Little Bear to confuse my brother with... I guess we will see.

Tonight we were supposed to be attending a dinner thanking folks who have been involved with getting KQHE, the local Catholic radio station, up and running. Unfortunately, Little Bear had a difficult night last night, and he's teething and angry, so it doesn't look like we will be able to go; the dinner isn't starting until 7pm, and I think we will be putting a little boy to bed before 7:30 tonight! 

There are so many how's and when's and what's to agree upon when a couple is figuring out how to celebrate holidays on their own instead of the way they grew up doing things, and it sure seems like the Advent/Christmas season has more of them than any other! You'd think that, our third Advent married, we would have figured it out by now... but I spent the first pregnant and apathetic, and the second dealing with a new small human and frazzled. With a helpful toddler this year, I was finally up to tackling questions like "at what point during Advent do we start decorating for Christmas? When do we get the tree? How many kinds of cookies, which ones, and when do I bake them?" Many of my questions, Matt didn't even realize they were topics it was possible to have an opinion on: the house gets decorated some time during Advent, we don't get the tree too early or it'll die, cookies can appear whenever I want them to.

I'm all about lists and schedules and order. If I didn't know that "sometime in Advent" was his way of saying that he really didn't have an opinion and I could choose a day/time that made sense to me, the vagueness of that answer would have been quite frustrating. Maybe it's good that it took us three years to get around to asking these questions! But I'm grateful that we have, finally, because now that I have the ability and energy, I really want to "do" Advent and Christmas well for Matt and Little Bear. The few non-tree decorations we have will go up in the next couple of days; cookies will start appearing early next week; we will head out to an old logging area to cut a tree the day before the Fourth Sunday of Advent, as long as it isn't too cold. I'm not sure what we will do if it's really cold that weekend, so Matt and my brothers had better stop praying for a -50 Christmas!

This has sure been a week for feasts! We (Matt) made an amazing Chicken Provençal for supper Monday for the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. We did... something that escapes me... Tuesday for Our Lady of Loretto. Last night we made pork fajitas and read Little Bear stories about St Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe. If we were allowed to light candles in our apartment I'd do something fun for St Lucy's feast today, but at least I can make Santa Lucia bread.

One of the things on my must-happen-before-Christmas list was reorganizing and adding things to the storage space we have artfully cordoned off in the second bedroom with the changing table-turned-toy shelf and a folding screen (this apartment is pretty shy on storage space). Little Bear is far too adventurous and "helpful" for me to manage it on my own during the week, so last Sunday afternoon Matt helped me redo the whole area. He is much more talented at organizing irregularly-shaped objects than I! One unforeseen result of the new organization, though, is that suddenly Little Bear has access to all of the books I'd hidden away either because he wasn't old enough or I was sick of reading them. He also has much better access to the toys on the shelf, but it's like he doesn't even notice them; the only thing he wants is "Book, Mama! Book book book!" Clearly, my kid. Right now there's a stack of books I'm reading on one arm of the couch, and five stacks of books that he keeps bringing to me all over the living room.

For more Seven Quick Takes fun, visit Jen at Conversion Diary!

11 December 2013

Lazy Blogger, Crazy Life

...Except, it hasn't really been all that terribly crazy the past few days... it just rhymed...

Anyway. I keep looking at the calendar these past few weeks and saying, "How is it Wednesday again and I haven't posted anything?" The holiday season is definitely an easy time to catch Lazy Blogger Syndrome, allowing my little corner of the internet to languish for days and days with no activity while real life picks up the pace. Recently it hasn't been lots of things needing to be done as much as lots of things coming up; it seems like every day so far this week has brought several new things to try to squeeze into our schedule for the next two weeks. Two weeks until Christmas, y'all!

There's so much to do, and it is getting done--today I hemmed up Little Bear's too-long black pants for his Christmas outfit and wrapped some presents, yesterday Little Bear helped me bake four more mini-loaves of pumpkin bread to give as gifts--but with new things popping onto the calendar right and left, suddenly my nicely-ordered days of predictability and structure are all being overturned: I was dismayed this evening to look at my calendar and realize that there is at least one extra, atypical, usually out-of-the-house, thing happening pretty much from now through Christmas!

Tomorrow I get a tiny reprive, because we were supposed to have supper with my family but my mom and brother have pinkeye, and the last thing I need is a toddler with pinkeye, so we are staying home. I feel sorry for them, but also a little bit guiltily grateful for a whole day at home with nothing extra happening, so that maybe I can finally make a batch of cookie dough or two, or buttermilk-cinnamon mini-loaves, or stollen... Except that it's the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, so I'll probably spend too long puttering around coming up with a Mexican-themed supper and then Little Bear will be all. done. letting me accomplish things in the kitchen, and the baking will get put off yet again.

No, I shouldn't say that; Little Bear is getting to be a big help in the kitchen. He loves sitting on the counter in front of me and watching while I use the stand mixer for quickbread or cookie dough, and when I'm making yeast breads, like tonight's hamburger buns, he gets so excited when I let him help me knead and punch down the dough. Occasionally an errant spice jar winds up slipping surreptitiously into my batter, but he's usually pretty good about asking before he adds ingredients. He has learned how to use measuring spoons pretty well, and it's a good thing he asks first or everything would wind up with a lot of extra baking soda in it!

Hopefully with a free day to play catch-up on my big to-do list, and a weekend coming up so Little Bear can wrestle with his daddy while I knock more things off the list, I'll manage to find a little bit more free time for blogging. I miss it when I take to many days off in a row! For the next couple of weeks, though, the general busyness will most likely keep cutting into my writing time.

08 December 2013

What I Wore Sunday {37}

I've missed a couple of weeks here, but today I'm joining Fine Linen and Purple again for the Second Sunday of Advent edition of What I Wore Sunday!

The past few days have been so warm, the streets are wet and slushy. Way too warm for December, but I can't deny that we are enjoying it during the daytime. (At night the roads freeze and get slick, and we have something to complain about again.) We talked about taking advantage of the warm weather--27 degrees above 0 this morning--to snap the photo outside, but this close to the winter solstice, with a few clouds in the sky there wasn't enough sunlight even at noon for a photo to turn out well! And we were trying for a decent family photo to put in Christmas cards, since I haven't managed to send those out yet, so lighting really did matter.

And then we forgot to take one of just me. So here's a sneak peek at our family Christmas photo:

Sweater: thrifted
Pencil skirt: thrifted
Pumps: garage sale

The giant mural behind us is pieced together with many varieties of wood from all over the world, and is supposed to represent a river. There's actually more to it, going up another full story, but if I hadn't cropped it a bit we would be too small to see!

Most years, I make a point of trying to wear the right liturgical colors during Advent: two purple Sundays, one rose, one purple. Somehow it has completely slipped my mind so far this year, but I'll try for rose next Sunday! Hopefully we don't compensate for this unseasonable warmth by plunging suddenly to -50, and it'll still be pleasant enough for a summery skirt. 

Looking at the calendar, I don't think that I'm nearly worried enough about accomplishing everything in time for Christmas. I hear "Second Sunday of Advent" and think, oh, I have three weeks left. But I don't! I have two and a half weeks, which is ever so much less. Suddenly the list of things to bake, gifts to wrap, cards to write (and mail tomorrow. Tomorrow!), decorations and visits and plans and events... it's feeling a little bit overwhelming.

I really enjoyed my peaceful first week of Advent: adding one loop to Little Bear's red and green chain every morning, opening a door on the Advent calendar when he needed a distraction, lighting the Advent wreath and reading a reflection as we prayed before supper... Calm, quiet, simple. Now I'm sitting amidst a sea of cards that all need to be addressed, and I'm stressing over misplaced addresses and not enough Christmas stamps and figuring out which people actually care about reading a Christmas letter and seeing a photo from us... It's time to sit down with my schedule and meticulously write every single thing down, so that I can see all of the pre-Christmas prep spaced out into some semblance of order. Maybe, maybe, if I can organize it all out on paper, I can keep the looming to-do list from making me too frazzled to find that quiet and peace for at least a few moments each day.

07 December 2013

Late Night Adventures

Does the fact that I'm describing something that happened at quarter to 7pm as "late night" declare me to be clearly a parent, or just old?

Little Bear and I bundled up this evening after dinner and headed out on a quest for very important random items like lettuce and soap and jello. We barely made it out to the driveway before we were running, slipping, sliding back to the door. "Matt, come quick! The Northern Lights are out!"

I don't think we saw them more than once last winter, and it's certainly been a long time since it's been warm enough to stand outside craning our necks to watch the brilliant green ribbons dancing across the sky. Little Bear could not figure out what we were so excited about, and sat stolidly on my hip holding his Bob the Builder book, refusing to look up where we were pointing. The aurora weaved back and forth above us, brightening in one spot, dimming in another, separating into icicle-like shards and merging together again. It was so pretty! They say that if you're far enough from everything, with nothing to break the silence, you can hear the aurora "sing." Maybe some day.

As our noses got cold and the lights danced away, Matt headed back inside while Little Bear and I ran to the store. It was an unexciting trip, which is always good, although I stayed in 4WD most of the way because this morning was 32 degrees and the roads had become icy again. This is October weather, early October. The air temperature is pleasant, but it's so weird, and we'd all rather have colder weather than icy roads.

To make up for the uneventful trip, I found some tracks preserved by the other night's freezing rain as I was plugging the car in when we got home:

Those are moose prints. Very large moose prints. And they are a foot away from our front bumper. (My print and the neighbors' dog's print labeled for size comparison.) I am hoping that the print on the right is from the moose slipping and skewing the print, because I have never in my life seen that large of a moose print.

Seeing them was a very needed reminder that, yes, we live in a suburban area, but the river is a few blocks one way and the ridge is a few blocks the other, and we do get moose here. I'll sure be making more of an effort to look carefully, talk loudly and clomp my way between the house and the car, especially when it's dark out, to try to keep from surprising any moose in the yard. They are huge, and even though they're herbivores they are dangerous animals. The ones that hang around town aren't afraid of humans, and won't hesitate to charge if they get annoyed or startled--cows with calves are particularly bad, and I saw some smaller moose prints farther down the driveway. We will be being careful until we are sure they've left the neighborhood!

06 December 2013

SQTF 59: First Week of Advent

Happy Feast of Saint Nicholas!

Little Bear was almost more excited to see the Saint Nicholas holy cards propped against the Advent wreath this morning as he was to see the shiny chocolate in his shoe. I'm sure that will change as he gets older and learns about chocolate, but I still appreciated getting his enthusiasm. I know it's "supposed" to be chocolate coins, symbolizing the gold Saint Nicholas gave to the three girls, and candy canes, symbolizing his crozier, but... that didn't happen. Maybe next year. At least I used purple-wrapped Hershey kisses (for Advent) and silver-wrapped milk chocolate hexagons that sort of look like old coins?

The shoes are on the kitchen table because Saint Nick went to bed early last night and forgot to set them out, and Little Bear would have caught me if I'd set them up outside our bedroom door (like I usually do) once we woke up and he was running around. I know he's too little for it to really matter, but his surprise and excitement when I picked him up to show him the shoes was definitely worth it.

Yesterday afternoon was a downright balmy 20 degrees above 0, but when the freezing rain started coming down in the evening, we quickly found ourselves wishing for colder temperatures! I haven't had to scrape ice off of a vehicle since we lived in Philadelphia, and it's certainly not an experience I've missed! It feels strange to be saying this in winter, but I cannot wait for it to get colder.

I also can't wait for Christmas. For all of the usual reasons, but particularly because then Little Bear will have his very own broom, just his size, and he will stop trying to sweep with the big broom and whacking us in the shins every thirty seconds. Hopefully, it will also keep him from getting in a snit whenever I use the big broom without sharing it with him---today he ran and hid the dustpan from me, and when I went to go find it, he leaned down and used his hand to scatter my dustpile all over the kitchen again!

Creativity is definitely the most important skill I've cultivated in the past few years of cooking; this evening, when I went to prepare the salmon filets that had been thawing all day, I discovered that I'd accidentally pulled smoked salmon out of the freezer instead. And of course we are out of eggs, which eliminates any kind of quiche, strata, or omelette to use the smoked salmon for dinner... We wound up with broccoli-baked potato-smoked salmon chowder. I threw some buttermilk-cinnamon muffins in the oven just in case the soup was underwhelming, but it definitely met the approval of both Matt and Little Bear, neither of whom is usually the biggest fan of soup for supper. I've never successfully served good soup twice in one week before!

A registration form for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program was in the packet we were handed as we left the hospital with our brand-new Little Bear, and for the most part, we've appreciated the program. If you're not familiar, it's a national program sponsored by local groups which sends registered kids a brand new age-appropriate book once a month from birth to age five. Some of the books we haven't kept, for various reasons, but most of them Little Bear has really enjoyed. The latest book has really been making me crazy, though; called Sleep Baby Sleep, it's just a little too... too. Too glorifying of feminine virtues over masculine ones. Too incorrect in their anthropomorphism--chicks don't strike off on their own right out of the shell, ducks hide out during storms instead of sailing boldly into them, calfs don't laugh. Too full of slant rhymes. (Slant rhymes! Bah!) Too "you are the most wonderful person ever and can be and do anything you want!!!" The combination, but particularly that last one, are just too much for me. I love my son; I think he is wonderful like any parent thinks their kid is wonderful; I refuse to inculcate him with the sense of narcissism and entitlement that so much of my generation is afflicted with. No, he probably can't be and do everything that he wants. That's okay; good, even. Setting realistic goals and working toward them is an important life skill. I know that, at 17 months, he's not likely to internalize a lesson that will warp his psyche for life, but the principle irks me too much. Someone else who doesn't think too much while reading toddler books can enjoy it!

Despite waking up ridiculously late this morning, Little Bear got an early enough nap that he was very ready for bed an hour and a half earlier than usual. He was so sad and sleepy, I just couldn't make him wait to go to bed... Hopefully he wakes up at a respectable time tomorrow morning, and not obscenely early!

Stop on over at Conversion Diary for more Seven Quick Takes Friday posts!

03 December 2013

Hustle and Bustle and Compound Nouns

The past couple of days have been productive but not overly full, and none of the evenings have held a sense of panic over things left undone, so why do I feel so scattered?

Maybe it's the temperature. Saturday and Sunday were cold, cold, cold. Monday was supposed to be cold as well, but it actually jumped up thirty degrees to 10 above. Today was below 0 again, and tomorrow was supposed to be in the high 20s above but now they are saying -10... good heavens, make up your mind!

Or maybe it's the cooking. Supper got off to a good, early start Monday with meat sauce simmering on the stove by 10 am... but I hadn't realized that I was down to my last can of crushed tomatoes, and I suddenly had to choose between making a skimpy 13x9 lasagna or a really, really good 11x7. The 13x9 guarantees leftovers for all three of our lunches the next day, but Matt likes my lasagnas, and I didn't want it to be disappointingly light on the sauce... I finally went with the 11x7. Fortunately, serving it with large salads last night did leave plenty of leftovers. 

Today, we learned that adding cooked chicken and some broth to leftover broccoli-wild rice casserole from Thanksgiving makes incredibly good soup: Matt would usually prefer to see something heartier than soup on the table at supper time, but this evening he was excitedly trying to figure out how to adapt the recipe to just go straight to this soup without stopping at casserole first. That was a relief! I'm still glad that I made a loaf of bread to go with the soup, to "hearten" up the meal in case it seemed a little light... even if I did get mixed up at one point as to which recipe I was reading and used twice as much sugar as it called for! The hamburger bun recipe was right above the French bread recipe, and most of the ingredients are the same, but the quantities are definitely different. Not a loaf to make garlic toast with!

Maybe it's the language barrier. We are reaching the point where Little Bear knows what words are, and clearly understands that we communicate by talking, but hasn't mastered the words to communicate with us the way he wants to. Sometimes it's just a problem of accentuation, like when he asks to get down but pronounces "down" as a two-syllable word (dah-na). Other times, we honestly have no idea what he is asking for, and we all grow frustrated as he stands there repeatedly saying "bahta" and pointing at... what? The water? The book? Oh, you want the spatula? How were we supposed to know that?

But sometimes, there's a wonderful language breakthrough where he can suddenly tell us exactly what he wants, and it's adorable, and then he has no idea why he's being hugged when he very clearly asked for the banana bread, Mama, not a hug. (And yes, I'm a language nerd: I did make an excited note of the fact that he said his first compound noun today.)

Maybe I'm just tired... but if so, it's definitely not Little Bear's fault. The boy has been falling asleep within 15-20 minutes of me starting to put him down, and staying asleep pretty much all night. He's even happily sleeping in late most mornings!

Or maybe it's just December. As my mental list of everything to be done in the next few weeks keeps growing, the spectre of holiday craziness is already overshadowing my Advent. Cookies, breads, fruitcake to bake... Special meals and activities to plan for the feasts of St Nicholas, the Immaculate Conception, St Juan Diego, OL Guadalupe, etc... Intensive cleaning of spots no one ever even sees before we have holiday guests... So much up-in-the-air-ness with the schedule of the last few days before Christmas and the big day itself... 

It's a Martha and Mary feeling. Yes, all of these things are important. Yes, they all need to be accomplished--and they will. But also, yes, Advent is important in and of itself, and this scattered feeling of everything being balanced somewhat precariously as I focus on too many things at once is a sign that, well, that I'm focusing on too many things at once. 

If I don't make an effort to stop every once in a while and just focus on the coming of Christ, I will only grow more and more scattered and frustrated because I won't be open to the peace and grace He offers me in this season of preparation. And if I muddle through on my own and accomplish all of the things on my list, but haven't spent any time preparing my heart, what kind of Christmas will it be? If I haven't found time to be quiet and pray yet today, scrubbing the bathtub can wait for tomorrow.

29 November 2013

SQTF 58: Thanksgiving Weekend

It's funny to even think about pairing the words "quiet" and "Thanksgiving," but it really was this year. In defiance of all tradition and logic, all three of us slept in past 9 am. We woke up to a happy child--happy and healthy for the first time in too long--trying to climb over us onto the floor, took leisurely showers, and nibbled muffins while making a broccoli-wild rice casserole to bring to dinner at my family's house. Dinner was quieter than usual, with only a small crowd, and we left much earlier than usual to come home for nap time. And the rest of the day was just... quiet. Peaceful. It was nice, but so weird.

Today made up for the quiet. Okay, we slept in again, but Little Bear and I wolfed down muffins and were out the door heading over to pick up two of my sisters 20 minutes after waking up. We had an impressive list of stores we wanted to visit, but after spending more than an hour at Fred Meyers, we decided to skip most of the others! Fred's was crazy, but JoAnn Fabrics... I'm so glad that my sister decided to just pick up some remnants, because the line for the cutting tables wound through half the store! We were in and out of Once Upon a Child quickly, because they only had pink boots in the size Little Bear needs.

I kind of miss the once-a-year craziness of Black Friday shopping with friends when I was in college... Staying up all night, waiting in line out in the cold, getting breakfast at Eat'n'park after a couple hours of being slightly irresponsible with money but having oh so much fun. Today I bought socks, and blanket sleepers, and wrapping paper, and cheese. Practical? Yes. Responsible? Yes. Boring? Oh, yes. 

Why do we waste all of those years wishing we were grown up?

Fortunately we wore Little Bear out, so he is taking a good nap today; yesterday, after getting sleepy and angry and making us head home early, he refused to actually nap until nearly 5pm. I felt so badly waking him up a little while later, but we couldn't let him sleep so long that he wouldn't go to bed... Today, after helping to push the shopping cart all over the place and running around at my mom's house, he fell asleep shortly after we got home.

Little Bear is truly his father's son: for supper last night, since it was a holiday, I decided to be "fun mom" and let him have a piece of pumpkin pie... And he refused to have anything to do with it, eagerly sharing his dad's pasta with pesto and Parmesan instead! Not that I'm complaining, because that meant, of course, that had to eat the little piece of pumpkin pie off his tray in addition to my slice of pecan, because we wouldn't want pie to go to waste...

I'm out of thoughts, so how about some recipes? I'll try to throw some photos up with these if I can find any...

Broccoli Wild Rice Casserole
1 cup uncooked wild rice
1 cup uncooked white rice
7 cups chicken broth
3 crowns broccoli
1 pound white button mushrooms
1 onion
1/2 cup olive oil
2 carrots
2 stalks celery
4 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Bring the wild rice (in 2 1/2 cups chicken broth) to a boil over medium heat uncovered; turn to low and cook, covered, 35-40 minutes. Set aside.

Bring the white rice (in 1 1/2 cups chicken broth) to a boil over medium heat uncovered; turn to low and cook, covered, 25 minutes. Set aside.

While cooking the rices, draft your husband into finely dicing the mushrooms, onion, carrots and celery while you cut the broccoli into florets and blanch it in boiling water for 2 minutes. Plunge broccoli into bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.

In a broad saucepan, sauté the mushrooms and onion in olive oil for 4 minutes, stirring often. Add carrots and celery and cook another 4 minutes, until the mixture begins to darken. Thoroughly stir in flour, then add remaining 3 cups of chicken broth. Bring to a boil and allow to thicken, about three minutes. Stir in cream, salt, and pepper and cook until thickened.

Mix everything together in your slow cooker and heat on low until ready to serve. (At least one hour if you carried it out into a -12 F car!) 

Butternut Squash Surprise Muffins
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 1/2 cup cooked butternut squash
1 teaspoon vanilla 
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon allspice
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Beat together wet ingredients. Add dry ingredients. Fold in chocolate chips. Don't let your toddler run off with one muffin pan full of batter while you're filling the other one. Bake 25-30 minutes. Makes too much for 12 muffin cups; I filled a mini loaf pan as well.

Have a wonderful, hopefully restful, Thanksgiving weekend! Don't forget to check out more Thanksgiving takes at Conversion Diary.

27 November 2013

Waking Up to Snow

The last seven days kind of run together in my mind--just a mess of feverish kiddo and doctor visits and spots and screaming and not sleeping.  It's getting better, though: the fever hasn't put in an appearance since Monday morning, the spots are fading, and I decided not to go back to the doctor today--the pediatrician ordered bloodwork, but told me not to worry about getting it done as long as Little Bear continued to improve. Little Bear seemed much more like himself by yesterday evening, and more so today.

A very angry version of himself, because there are at least two teeth trying to break through. But still, it's so good to see him running around and showing interest in toys and books again!

Thanks to the teething, he spent a several-hour block of last night waking up screaming every twenty minutes until we finally got up and turned lights on at 3am, changed him, checked to make sure the fever hadn't come back, and gave him another dose of Tylenol for his teeth. Today is following a similar pattern; periods of happy play and reading stories interspersed with angry screaming and refusing to be anywhere not in my arms. I'm so glad we aren't hosting Thanksgiving this year! Nothing has gotten done this week, and I don't think today will be much of an exception.

But I'm not complaining, really, because having a healthy toddler screaming at the top of his lungs because his teeth hurt is much, much better than having a sick toddler sprawled limply on my lap whimpering because he doesn't have the energy to do anything else.

And because this is already about as disorganized as my brain is right now, I have to say that temporal artery thermometers (the ones you swipe across the forehead) are the most wonderful things ever. Ever. The axillary thermometer we had been using for Little Bear since he was born regularly took up to five minutes to take his temperature, and we would be sitting there trying to pin his arm down, keep his other hand from grabbing the thermometer, rocking, singing, trying to calm him down so he didn't throw up, while he screamed and writhed and the stupid thermometer sat there taking its sweet time. We definitely didn't take his temperature unless we absolutely had to.

A few days into this latest bout of fever and screaming, Matt swung by the store and picked up a forehead thermometer. It took a couple of tries to figure out exactly where to scan, and we had to make a game out of it to get him to let us try it on him, but now Little Bear will sit perfectly still and scrunch up his nose while we slide the thermometer across his forehead, then exclaim "Ding!" when it beeps--in a matter of seconds, not minutes! I was a little taken aback when I saw the receipt (okay, "shocked speechless" might be more accurate; maybe "almost died"), but it's honestly worth it.

Now that he's on the mend and active and doing things like bringing me his boots to ask if he can go play outside, I'm noticing an unfortunate trend so far this winter. Snow took a long time to get here, but when it finally arrived, Little Bear got one day of playing in it before he got a bad cold and had to stay inside. By the time he got better, the temperature had plummeted far below 0 and he had to stay inside. Then it warmed up, and he got sick again. Now he is finally getting better, and it's only 0 out today but they are calling for temperatures to drop again. We have a winter storm watch in effect right now, mainly for snow accumulation; I'd better bundle him up well and take him out to play in it for a little bit this afternoon, or we will wind up having spent the entire month of November inside!

25 November 2013

There and Back Again

To the doctor's office, that is. 

We went in on Friday because Little Bear had a fever and there was concern that his ear infection hadn't actually gone away. His ears looked great, but if the fever stuck around until Monday we needed to bring him back in, the pediatrician said.

Then he got spots, little red spots singly and in clusters all over his body. The fevers didn't go away, and didn't even really come down all that much with Tylenol. He cried and cried and coughed and threw up throughout the weekend, so Monday morning I cancelled our car appointment (because of course everything goes wrong at the same time) and took him back to the doctor.

His ears still looked great. The spots could be anything; lots of kids get rashes with fevers, especially kids with eczema. The fever disappeared, at least temporarily, between the house and the doctor's office... so I felt a little silly. The pediatrician was having trouble hearing his lungs, though, and was concerned about the combination of that plus fever plus throwing up while he nursed, and sent us downstairs to radiology for a chest X-ray to rule out pneumonia.

Heavens, toddlers and X-rays are an unhappy combination.

Little Bear was so distraught, seeing Mama in the funny green apron, being stuck in another doctor's office with funny machines, having to sit on a table instead of on Mama's lap... I did my best to comfort him without being able to give him what he wanted, but he got himself too worked up and threw up all over the radiologist's table. It took two radiologists plus me to get the two images they needed, and I had a time of it calming him down afterward.

The X-rays came back perfectly normal, thank goodness! We are keeping an eye on his temperature, hoping that the fever is really gone, and have another follow-up tomorrow in case the fever shows up again. Such fun. Praying that everything gets better quickly and we can be all done at the doctor's office for a while!

22 November 2013

SQTF 57: Doctors, Mechanics, and Firemen

Our check engine light started flashing again yesterday, so per the mechanic's instructions, Little Bear and I brought it in right after dropping Matt off this morning. They scanned the code, and in addition to the "multiple cylinder misfires," "cylinder three misfire," etc we were expecting, there's apparently also something wrong with the ignition circuit... because why not? So we made an appointment for Monday, and hopefully it gets done in one day because it's our only vehicle. Otherwise... I don't know. I'd see if I could borrow my brother's truck, but a tree fell on it in the windstorm last week... I suppose I should be grateful that our jeep only has comparatively insignificant problems.

After visiting the mechanic and getting groceries, I decided to reward the mostly-patient toddler by stopping at Barnes & Noble since we had some time to kill. He was very excited to sit on a big chair and share a scone with Mama! He also had too much fun squishing blueberries between his fingers, which meant there were funny purple splotches on his hands that required explaining when...

...we got to the doctor's office. Another day, another fever... that's not how it's supposed to go, is it? Little Bear spiked a fever yesterday and his ears were red, and since we just got over an ear infection, the nurse recommended that I bring him in. He still had a fever, a higher one, this morning so in we went. Fortunately it's not another ear infection; he doesn't have any other cold symptoms, but the doctor thinks it's just a run of the mill viral infection. If he still has a high fever like this on Monday, though, I'm supposed to bring him in for some bloodwork. Oh joy. And I won't have the jeep on Monday, so this little boy needs to get better quick!

Toward the end of the appointment, while there was a tongue depressor in Little Bear's mouth and he was trying to get rid of it by sheer force of volume, a white light started flashing. When he quieted down enough, we realized that the fire alarm was going off. Now, it's nearly 50 degrees warmer today than it was yesterday, but 10 F is still nowhere near warm enough to carry the kid outside in only a diaper. I had to quickly, quickly stuff the still-screaming toddler into clothes and carry him down three flights of stairs and out of the building, where he gaped--silent!--as the fire trucks pulled in. We sat in the front seat of the car so that he could watch the flashing lights, and he was so happy.

Thanks to the trauma of the doctor visit, he fell asleep in the car on the way home, so I was able to leave the heat going and run a load of groceries in before carrying him into the apartment. Anything that could safely be left outside will come in after we pick Matt up this evening; I only grabbed things that really shouldn't freeze, like produce and dairy. Unloading groceries with a toddler without a garage in the winter is so very not fun... I'm so grateful that he slept and let me take care of the important ones! An attached garage is definitely one of my few "musts" whenever we wind up buying a house.

I came around the corner yesterday and surprised Little Bear poking at the screen of my phone. It was still locked, so I didn't think anything of it; just set it higher out of reach and distracted him by building a blanket fort and playing polar bears. When I went to take a photo today, the little camera roll thumbnail of my most recent photo didn't look familiar... It turns out that Little Bear took twenty-eight self portraits and photos of the ceiling yesterday!

And... I have nothing. One more weekend before Thanksgiving? I'm so glad that Matt gets a four day weekend; we are both looking forward to it so much. 

Have a great weekend! Don't forget to visit ConversionDiary.com for more Quick Takes.

21 November 2013

Kitchen Science

Since it is freakishly cold outside-- -35 F first thing this morning --Little Bear and I have not ventured out of the house at all since late Sunday morning. It's fortunate that he's still a little toddler, and an only toddler, or I'm sure we'd be even more stir-crazy than we are! After reading every storybook in the house this morning, some of them twice, I brought him into the kitchen and let him sit on the counter while I made bread.

He promptly set to discovering centrifugal force, spinning the spice rack quickly enough that the little jars started to come flying out of it. I thought they were at an angle precisely so that couldn't happen?

So I rescued the oregano from the bowl of batter, and contemplated which spices did belong with butternut squash to make it taste like pumpkin bread. Probably just a little more than usual of the ones I would put with pumpkin, right? I hope so. We haven't tried it yet, and my menfolk are starting to tire of the "surprise, it's squash!" routine. I have a bunch to use up, though, so...

Double the baking powder, because it's getting old... Check for spice jars before starting the mixer... How many times do you grate a nutmeg to get a teaspoon? In my kitchen, baking is kind of like doing chemistry, but with more uncertainty and fewer explosions.

We have been doing a lot of it recently (baking, not exploding things, although that might help too) in an effort to warm up the apartment. Our oven doesn't hold heat very well, which is frustrating in that everything takes longer to bake, but when it is this cold it certainly makes the kitchen the most welcoming room in the house! It's probably the most effective way I have to keep our kitchen pipes from freezing, too: our kitchen and living room are over an unheated, poorly insulated crawlspace, and if our floor is this cold, I can only imagine how cold the pipes down in the crawlspace are getting. Our landlords suggest leaving the cabinet doors under the sink open to let warm air circulate when it is this cold, but I don't want Little Bear getting into the trash can and cleaning supplies... Hopefully, heating up the oven regularly will be enough to keep the pipes warm.

The bread did turn out well, so if you're looking for a new way to use squash, give it a try!

Butternut Squash Bread

1 2/3 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon nutmeg

Combine, then add:

2 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1 cup butternut squash, mashed 

Mix well. Bake at 350 F for at least an hour; mine took an hour and twenty-five minutes before it tested done, but our oven doesn't hold heat well.

19 November 2013

Not the Break I Was Looking For

It's been almost a year, so I suppose I don't have all that much right to be surprised. I haven't made it a full twelve months without breaking or dislocating something since my freshman year of college. Eventually, my household sisters' response to seeing me in some kind of brace switched from "Oh no!" to "Now what?"

So, now what? I've broken another toe. The toe right next to the one I broke last February, actually. About a week and a half ago, Little Bear was helping me make supper when he decided to push something heavy off the edge of the counter -- and down onto my toes. Ouch. 

It's been sore and discolored, and I've been doing my best to convince myself that I just bruised it; ignore the problem and it'll go away, right? It hasn't improved at all, though, and it has the same unique bruise pattern--a solid, dark line-- that the last broken toe sported, so I have to admit that it's probably more than just bruised and should maybe be buddy-taped for a while. At the very least, I'll stay in flat boots and shoes for a couple of weeks. Heels shouldn't be much of a temptation for a bit anyway; we are supposed to get down to -20 tomorrow.

Fortunately it's a toe, and not something that actually deserves a trip to the doctor! Also fortunately, Little Bear isn't constantly trying to bite my toes this time around like he was last time this happened.

17 November 2013

What I Wore Sunday {36}

Back on the WIWS bandwagon with Fine Linen and Purple after last weekend's plague.

This weekend has felt all jumbled. Yesterday we were going in all directions at once, running to a bazaar, the sporting goods store, the grocery store, back to the sporting goods store (they finally have ammo back in stock; it's been nearly a year since they had more than an endcap which would be sold out the day after the shipment arrived). We were really only home barely long enough to give Little Bear a nap before getting dressed up nicely and running out the door for confession and Mass. Confession at one parish, Mass at another, a stop at the ice cream shop on the way home in defiance of the nearly-negative temperature... 

Little Bear eats the oddest things for a toddler: the other day it was a sundried tomato basil bagel, yesterday he was eating my lemon-cheesecake ice cream so eagerly I could hardly get a bite myself... and it was very lemony.

Anyway. We woke up leisurely this morning, and Matt read Little Bear stories while I got dolled up because we had unusual plans: Little Bear got to go play with his aunts and uncle while we went out to brunch! Roads are still snowy and icy, and we wound up creeping along at 5 mph behind some graders for part of the drive, but it was a beautiful, sunny day for admiring the snowy woods so that wasn't too bad. Even if it was -7 F.

Because it was so cold, I wound up wearing pants instead of a skirt this morning (we forgot to get a photo of what I wore to Mass last night, so instead I have a photo of what I wore this morning):

Coral blazer: Forever 21, thrifted
Grey cable knit short-sleeved sweater: Merona, thrifted
Khakis: American Eagle, thrifted
Fancy hairdo: a very enthusiastic child when we picked him up from Grandma's

Worn with my scruffy boots, because my feet were cold, so... that definitely dressed me down even more. There's no such thing as "dress code" here, though; even though we were at one of the nicest restaurants in town, more people were in jeans or carharts than anything else. There are times when it would be nice--would feel special, I guess--to go to a restaurant and have everyone there be dressed up. Most of the time, though, I really appreciate the laid-back attitude of this town: no one will look at you funny no matter what you're wearing.

15 November 2013

SQTF 56: So Much Crazy

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The last two days were a crazy whirl of ice storm, blizzard, and power outages, none of which are at all typical for our winters. Snow, and only snow falls straight downward, and is so light and fluffy it can pile five inches thick on a power line before gravity takes hold of it... That's what a snowstorm usually means. The past few days, though, have been filled with wildly-flying slush. Yuck. It's been nice and warm--in the upper 30s and 40s--and I haven't even set foot outside because the storming is so nasty. Power went out twice yesterday and once this morning, but was fortunately only out for an hour or shorter each time. I wasn't sure how I was going to feed Matt and Little Bear supper last night if the power didn't come back on!

We all came down with a cold more than a week ago, Little Bear, then Matt, then me. Little Bear is getting close to being over it, I hope? He's still sniffly, but we haven't had an hour of coughing in the middle of the night since Sunday or Monday. He developed an ear infection on top of it and the pediatrician gave us amoxicillin, which it turns out he loves the taste of... it's certainly no struggle to get him to take it! She warned us that it could cause diarrhea, but no one said anything about it dying the mess orange-red; that was a shock. I guess I'm supposed to be intelligent enough to figure out that he's ingesting pink dye twice a day... But really, why do that to a mom who's probably sleep-deprived given that she has a sick kid?

The word of the week is "Ding!" Every time anything in the apartment makes a chiming, ringing, buzzing, etc sound (dishwasher, dryer, microwave, phone...) Little Bear looks up from whatever he's doing, turns back and forth until he figures out what it was, then runs over to the device shouting "Ding! Ding!" I think this is the first onomatopoeia he's learned on his own? He knows animal sounds, but that's from Matt and I reading him books... And we also taught him the "vroom" for trucks, "boom" for things falling, etc. It's exciting to hear him picking things up for himself.

Since, goodness, as long as he's been able to sit up, Little Bear has liked to sit on the bathroom counter while we brush our teeth. (Yes, we keep a hand on him, or at least stand right behind him now that he's bigger.) For a while now he's known how to work the faucet, and will happily turn it on and off, on and off. I'm grateful that he finally seems to have gotten tired of sticking his socks in it. But so this morning, as I set him on the counter while I got his amoxicillin ready, it didn't register that he was holding his stuffed polar bear. Until the water was running and the bear was in the sink, filling the sink basin, taking a bath and splashing water everywhere. Oh child.

For some reason, Dave Ramsey has been all over my feed reader this week. I know a lot of people have been helped to get out of debt by his techniques, and I'm sure his money management methods work for many people. His 'credit cards are evil' philosophy irks me, though, severely. Ramsey says, on his website: "Responsible credit card use does not exist. There is no positive side to credit card use." I'm sorry, but that's just not true, and it really seems to deny the existence of free will. Now I do understand that he is talking to people who are largely trying to get out of debt, and so he is taking an approach similar to AA: vilifying the object of the addiction/problem. I remember a conversation with my sister after she attended some AA meetings for a nursing class, where she was struggling to understand how good adults she respected could ever have even one drink if alcohol was such an evil thing. Alcohol is like credit cards: inanimate matter, which people can use well or poorly. The "vilify the object" approach may work, may even be good, in helping addicts overcome a problem, but just because some people are incapable (for whatever reason) of using an object rightly, that does not mean that everyone is incapable of doing so.

Obviously, we have a credit card. We also follow a pretty strict budget, eat "mystery surprise casserole" at the end of the month if another shopping trip would put us over budget, and pay our balance in full every month. We certainly could use cash for all of our purchases the way Ramsey recommends, but we don't, for two reasons. First, contrary to Ramsey's claim that "when you pay cash, you can 'feel' the money leaving you. This is not true with credit cards," both Matt and I find that spending cash thoughtlessly or frivolously is much, much easier than doing so with plastic, because with the card, we can see the numbers in our budgeting software. Cash purchases simply "don't exist" in our minds; once the cash is withdrawn from the bank, it's out of the system and not accountable-for. And secondly, we live in Alaska. Traveling anywhere out-of-state is obscenely expensive, and flights all the way out East to see his family run easily $1200 per person. Spending an entire month's pay on a trip, even as important a trip as visiting family, sure doesn't sound like good financial stewardship to me! By using the Alaska Airlines Visa card, though, and using it for pretty much everything, we are able to earn free tickets. As long as we pay in full each month, and we do, we believe that we are indeed using our card responsibly.

Sorry for the rant... No more finances for a good long time, promise! It's just been eating at me for a while. I should probably follow the kid's example and go to sleep... Have a lovely weekend! We are hoping (okay, maybe not Matt) to hit at least one of the Christmas bazaars around town tomorrow and finish up Christmas shopping so that I can get out-of-state gifts sent out in the next week or two; all of the mail in and out of Alaska bottlenecks through one post office in Anchorage, and it's generally accepted that anything shipped out of Alaska after December 2 won't get where it's headed until after Christmas. (So I'm not just being absurdly organized, it's actually important.)

12 November 2013

Finding Order

What with the bedroom ceiling leaking, the car suddenly needing to go in to the shop, the cold/ear infection/stomach plague descending on our house and other fun happenings, I'd been in something of a snit the past couple of days. Why does it all have to happen at once? And why isn't there anything I can do to make any of it go away?  My eternally-patient husband, bless him, has had a grumpy wife.

Fortunately for all of us, I talked with a friend yesterday afternoon who remarked on her own grumpiness recently, recognizing that it wasn't a productive attitude and she should do something about it. I was ashamed to realize that she has so much more a reason to be unhappy than I do--all of my current problems are going away, largely without all that much effort on my part, even if it's not happening according to my ideal snap-my-fingers-poof timeline--and yet she was responding much more gracefully than I.

But thankfully, there's such a thing as grace. And second, twenty-second, and seven-hundred-forty-second chances. After that conversation and a good nap, Little Bear and I were able to greet Matt after work yesterday with a mostly-tidy house. The plumber came and fixed the leaky pipe. The mechanic couldn't duplicate the problem in the car, declared it a computer glitch, and didn't charge us anything. And dinner turned out particularly awfully, but we were able to laugh at ourselves for not having learned our lesson the last time we put pumpkin and pasta together.

It sounds so easy to just "ask for grace when you need it," but it's not. Is that due more to pride, wanting to do it all myself, or is it just hard for my frazzled, exhausted brain to form coherent thoughts beyond the concrete tasks and problems in front of me? Probably a bit of both. But Little Bear had an excellent night last night--I don't recall him waking up even once--so we both came into today better prepared to make it a good one. 

Snow drifting silently past the window ever since we woke up has given the day a peaceful tone, at least for those of us who don't have to leave the house; they are calling for freezing rain tonight, but hopefully that won't start before Matt is safely home. The well-rested child, still nursing a cold but acting much less sick, was happy to play and participate in chores all morning. We dusted, vacuumed, cleaned the kitchen, built and knocked down towers, washed a load of towels, read book after book after book... After inhaling half of my lunch, the boy was happy to go down for a nap. 

Watching him sleep, looking around the mostly-tidy apartment, mentally walking through dinner plans, I feel more at peace than I have for a while. Everything is falling back into place; life is becoming orderly again. More than anything, I think my earlier grumpiness can be attributed to the loss of order: schedules were thrown off by the illness, budgets were threatened by unexpected repairs, the usual flow of life was turned all inside out and order was supplanted by uncertainty.

Maybe that uncertainty was a chance to develop a deeper trust in God instead of trying to find our own path in the chaos. If so, I kind of missed it, didn't I? At least I got it right by the end. And since God is Order, the fulfillment and perfection of order, I guess I was seeking Him even when I didn't realize it. 

Baby steps.

10 November 2013

Day of Rest

At quarter to 11 last night, our poor teething toddler with both an ear infection and a cold finally stopped coughing and fell asleep. As I lay there, staring up at the ceiling and trying to fall asleep myself, I noticed a dark spot just off my side of the bed. 

No. Please no. No no no no no, the ceiling was NOT leaking again. 

I lay there for five minutes, trying to convince myself that it was an old water spot and I always saw it there every night. Finally I gave in, and carefully, carefully, not waking the barely-sleeping child next to me, knelt on the edge of the bed and reached up to touch the spot. Wet.

I poked Matt. Should I call the landlady? It's 11 o'clock at night. But there's water seeping through the ceiling. But the child needs this sleep so badly. But water. But it's not really over any furniture... I squinted at it a moment longer. No, it might overlap the edge of the bed if it spreads any further. Will you help me move the solid wood bedframe in the dark without waking the toddler sleeping on it?

Ladies and gentlemen, my husband is amazing. The bed was moved soundlessly; the toddler did not stir. Matt went back to sleep while I broke the news to our landlords, reassured them that we would be happy to just stick something under it until morning, and layered the side of the bed and the floor with towels.


Can we please have another weekend to recover from this weekend? It's just been one thing after another since Matt left work early Friday afternoon to bring me the car so that I could take Little Bear to the doctor and get a prescription for his ear infection. Matt and I have both come down with Little Bear's cold; the doctor gave us amoxicillin, which I'm allergic to, so Matt has to help every time Little Bear needs it; he spent the 3 am hour last night coughing and crying; we woke up to a foot of heavy wet snow outside, and apparently not even the freeways had been plowed when my parents drove to 7:30 Mass this morning. 

Sick toddler coughing all over the place, sick sleep-deprived parents, snowed-in culdesac; we didn't make it to Mass this morning. We are both pretty sure that we are still in the contagious stage of this bug, and Little Bear isn't up for leaving the house--he threw up from coughing so hard last night, and again today. And with the reports of scattered freezing rain throughout the valley, on top of this huge snow dump... staying indoors, away from other people, seemed like the most prudent choice. It's disappointing, but we read the Mass readings and added some extra prayers to our usual ones. 

Our landlord came down midmorning, and he and Matt poked around in the ceiling and discovered that an elbow in the pipe draining from their bathtub had split open along its seam (no idea if that explanation makes sense; I know nothing about plumbing). Since it's stopped actively dripping, they decided to wait until tomorrow to call out a plumber... I understand wanting to avoid weekend emergency charges, but the room smells so musty and icky with the tile left open overnight. It doesn't seem to bother Matt or Little Bear; I guess my nose just isn't stuffy enough.

Thanks to the latest throwing-up episode, which took place ten minutes after he finally went down for a nap, a) we are aaaaaall out of laundry soap, and b) he thinks he took a nap and is all done sleeping until bedtime. I'm so grateful that Matt is here to take turns reading stories over and over to the child.

We all need sleep so badly... is it bad that I'm half hoping that Matt is still sick and unable to go in to work tomorrow?

08 November 2013

SQTF 55: Winter and All That Comes With It

Linking up as usual with Jen and all!

The snow is still here, predictably. I won't keep saying that every week from now through May, I promise. Okay, I'll probably start complaining about it in April again. But this week, there was always a chance... a super faint chance... that a warm front would move in and melt away this first real snowfall. No dice, though; we are stuck with it. The city didn't even bother to send out the snowplows, because it's already November and everyone with sense had their snow tires on a month ago, and it's really a given that we have a layer of hardpack on the roads by this point. Thankful for a 4WD vehicle! I wouldn't feel safe, or like a responsible driver/parent/etc, in anything less in our winters.

The first cold of winter synchronized perfectly with the arrival of the snow: poor Little Bear hasn't been able to go out and play in it again since the first day it fell because he's been cooped up inside with a nasty head cold. He's doing his level best to share it with both parents, but we haven't quite succumbed yet... We shall see. I feel so badly for the poor child; he isn't old enough to have any idea why his nose is doing this to him--he just knows that he's miserable.

Oddly enough, having a sick little boy sleeping between us has translated to the best sleep any of us have gotten in months. Maybe he just doesn't have the energy to flail around like he usually does? Whatever the reason, it's been marvelous, even if he is snoring louder than his father.

This morning it was only 0 F when I woke up--brrr! It's still better than yesterday, though, which had only warmed up to 2 F by 5 pm. We were sorry to finally put away the fall jackets and hang the bigger leather and wool coats by the door. Time to switch to heavy gloves, start thinking about wearing hats, stock the back of the car with emergency winter gear. Little Bear has been none too happy about wearing winter boots in the car! Every time we have driven somewhere this week, he has complained about them.

Yesterday evening, Little Bear and I bundled up and drove across town to pick up a new plug end for our car timer. With the temperature falling below 0 at night, it's time to start plugging in the engine block heater, oil pan heater, etc. so that the vehicle will start in the mornings. (Yesterday morning, Matt tried to take his department's van to fix an offsite problem and it refused to start.) To avoid leaving our car plugged in and drawing current all night long, we plug the extension cord into a timer, which is plugged into the wall. 

Our first winter, we bought a plastic timer because that was all they sold anywhere in town. The first time it hit -50, the plastic shattered. We just plugged it in to the wall all night for the rest of the winter . Our second winter, we looked everywhere for an old-fashioned metal timer, and eventually learned that no one even makes them anymore. Not wanting to wake up to a frozen engine block again, we decided to skip buying another plastic timer and plug in to the wall all winter. The electric bills were awful. This past summer, we found an old metal timer at a garage sale. The ground was broken off, so it needed a new plug, but the $20 total investment should be quickly made up for in savings on our electric bill!

Our light is fading quickly, along with our warmth; when I got into the car at 4 pm yesterday, the sunset was a narrow orange band across the horizon and the moon was very visible above it. Soon enough, we will be able to see the moon 24 hours a day. Having snow down helps tremendously, though: the white layer everywhere catches and reflects the light we do get, making this past week seem substantially brighter than the previous week, at least during the middle of the day.

05 November 2013

Snow Day

Snow back in mid-September was unacceptable, but on November 5, it is beautiful and much looked-for. I cannot recall a year that winter has waited so late to settle in. The whiteness is finally here, though; here until April or May, most likely. Snow has been falling since we woke up this morning, making Matt's commute exciting, I'm sure. Little Bear noticed it as soon as we walked into the living room, and ran over to the window, pointing. 

"Snow is falling, see?" I told him. "O! Boom!" he answered. Falling, boom... it made me laugh that he made that connection, although the tiny flakes aren't exactly going "boom." 

It looks like November outside. For such small flakes, it's piling up surprisingly quickly: Only a few tufts of grass poke up through the white blanketing the yard; each fence post wears a small white cap. There is a good inch of fluffy, feather-light powder along the deck railing, and Little Bear's nap was (unnecessarily, in my opinion) cut short by a perhaps over-eager landlord snowblowing the walk.

I've been away from Lower 48 autumns for too many years now; is it really so odd to be pleased by snow taking up a semi-permanent residence in my yard in early November? It's hard for me to even imagine not having snow on the ground for the next five months, at least. Matt sent me a photo he saw online yesterday of the Pennsylvanian Appalachians right about now, but as he mourned the fact that we didn't have Novembers like that, I looked at it in some confusion. Why are there still leaves on the trees? Those poor people--without snow, how can they enjoy the coziness of the Thanksgiving-Advent-Christmas season we are so quickly approaching?

After the mail was delivered, Little Bear and I bundled up and ran out to play in the snow on our way to the mailbox. He is walking so much better now than he was when we got that ridiculously early snow in September; then he didn't even try to move when I carried him outside in his snow gear, but today he was running around in his snow boots, laughing and trying to grab hold of the snow.

03 November 2013

What I Wore Sunday {35}

Little Bear is still trying to cut the incisors he's been working on for two weeks, y'all. I'm tired. So hopefully my total lack of brain this morning can be excused... 

I woke up to Little Bear fussing and looking for food, but that made sense because the clock said 8:00. That's really weird, I thought. Were we all so tired that my alarm didn't wake any of us? It was already too late for us to make it to North Pole in any semblance of calm and orderliness, though, so I shrugged and laid back down to let the child nurse. I guess we're going to Mass on campus again. A half hour later, my alarm went off. We were supposed to change the clocks last night! Thank heaven for cell phones that update automatically.

In my defense, last night was not a normal evening. Matt was out watching a movie with a coworker until 9, and Little Bear--who was nearly asleep--perked right up and dove off the bed to go find Daddy as soon as the front door opened. He enthusiastically ran around in circles with his stuffed bear while Matt got ready for bed and told me about his evening, and it took quite a while to get him back down! 

Because it'd been a late night, and we were both tired, and Little Bear seemed inclined to continue his pattern of nursing for ten minutes, sleeping for fifteen, repeat, Matt and I decided to take advantage of the time change and wake up slowly, going to the later Mass on campus after all. 

The university parish doesn't have a church building; they have a small crypt chapel in their Catholic Student Association building (an old house that served as administrative housing fifty years ago), but it only holds 20 or so people, so for years they've held Sunday Mass in a large auditorium. And walking in, there's no escaping the fact that you're in an auditorium; even set up for Mass, it's hard to see it as church. This fall, a brand-new building was completed for the biology department, and the parish was offered use of the gorgeous new auditorium. Today was the first Sunday in the new space, and wow. The seats are at a much less steep angle, there are no stairs, there is room for communicants to not have to walk behind the altar after receiving... It's so much nicer! The auditorium is also set up for video conferencing, and Father is hopeful that they will be able to live stream the Mass out to the remote villages that don't see a priest for a month or longer at a time. Matt works in the university's video conferencing department, so all the way home he was talking through ways they could make that work; ministry to the villages is so badly needed, I really hope they are able to make it happen!

Blue sweater: hand-me-down
Brown eyelet skirt: thrifted
Chocolate pumps: garage sale

The little bear is sporting a blue striped turtleneck from his Grandmom and a pair of hand-me-down brown fleece overalls. I didn't intend for us to match, but it's always fun when that happens. Even Matt fit the color scheme this week, with dark khakis and a tan-brown-blue argyle sweater!

Join us over at Fine Linen and Purple for more!