27 February 2015

Seven Quick Takes

My favorite quote from this week: 

Little Bear, scoffing at my foolishness: "No Mama, there is not brain inside my head!"


It's been warm here lately—the deck thermometer, which isn't really getting hit by the sun so it should be pretty accurate, says it's 32 F out right now. Little Bear has had so much fun outside, playing in the snow, building snow castles (like sand castles), and sledding. We walked to the mailbox and back today, and since it was midafternoon and we never see any cars on our road, I got in the sled with Little Bear and we flew down our road two-thirds of the way to the mailboxes. I got out and started pulling the sled again before we reached the main road where our mailboxes are, just in case someone turned onto our street; it was so much fun! I know sledding is one of the (many) things pregnant woman aren't supposed to do, but pfft. There are enough things that make pregnancy not-fun; if I'm on a reasonable hill and know that I can control the sled and we're not in real danger of a spill, I'm going sledding with my kids.

Between the warm weather and having a corrugated metal roof, we've been experiencing a new-to-us snow phenomenon: as the metal heats up and everything gets melty, the entire foot-thick sheet of icy snow starts sliding off the roof. I knocked down a good three-foot overhang of snow and icicles over our front door before taking Little Bear out to play today!

Lately Little Bear has taken to asking for "yogurt we made," "jam we made," "granola bar we made," etc. It's fun that he remembers helping to make the things that we're eating, and he gets really excited about making foods... and then very impatient to be able to eat them! Today we had "hard-boiled eggs we made" for lunch, and the first taste of a new batch of "applesauce we made" after supper.

Anyone have suggestions for a good Stations of the Cross book for little kids? Something with good pictures/artwork, and either elementary school-appropriate reflections or else just the names of the Stations? I'd like something that Little Bear can look at while we pray the Stations at home, but would prefer to avoid anything written specifically for a 2-year-old audience; too-simplistic text is worse than none at all, in my opinion. I have a tiny little leaflet that we used today, and it does have nice, classical artwork for each Station, but they're so small that he couldn't really see them well.

It's 5:30pm, and still light enough outside that I don't have any lights on in the house. All of this daylight is wonderful! It creates an odd contrast, though; the past few months have conditioned us to associate cold and winter with darkness, and it's been hard to remember, when it's so bright and sunny outside, that we really do still need to burn at least one good fire a day.

Now it's 8:30, and definitely not light outside anymore. Soon enough it will be light later than this, though; we are already up to 10 hours of daylight (defined as from the bottom of the sun resting atop the horizon to the bottom of the sun touching back down on the horizon), and gaining quickly.

I'm so grateful that it's the weekend! Do you have any big plans? There's supposed to be another winter storm blowing in by midday tomorrow; they're calling for an insignificant (for here) 2-5 inches of snow, but with 20 mph winds. We don't really get wind at all during the winters here, so we'll see how that goes. Matt and I are planning to go out tomorrow night, for the first time in I don't remember how many months; our house is two minutes from the restaurant is five minutes from my parents' house where Little Bear will be, so unless the storm is worse than we expect I don't think we'll have to cancel.

Stop by This Ain't the Lyceum for more quick takes!

26 February 2015

Meatless meals: Lent week one

It seems like I've fallen into this weird cycle of blogging steadily one week, then disappearing the next, and it's making me a little crazy because I need to write to unwind, but between Little Bear and Kit conspiring to keep me from ever sleeping, a larger-than-I-expected freelance job hanging over me, and an out of the blue project with a "really needed this yesterday" deadline for my dad's business, figuring out how to operate and advertise a rebate linked to an event that's happening way too soon... my brain's been a little fried. I don't think anyone suffering through the unusually-wintery weather in the rest of the country really wants to hear about our unseasonably beautiful weather, but I'm not sure I have the wherewithal to come up with anything much more interesting than observations on the weather, unless you want to hear about the fine print on rebate slips.

Or food. I can talk about food. Three meatless nights a week has been harder to plan for than I expected, and in different ways. When I make the weekly menu regularly, I try to vary the proteins and starches so we never have too similar of meals right close together: if I make chicken on Monday, we'll have a different protein Tuesday (and preferably Wednesday as well). If Tuesday is a pasta night, no more pasta before Friday or Saturday. With all types of meat off the table for Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, though, it's been much more of a challenge to keep up the variety. Tuesday has to provide leftovers for Wednesday's lunch, Wednesday for Friday's lunch, so I have to make sure all three nights' suppers are distinctly different and that Tuesday and Wednesday's suppers will be good reheated for lunches.

This week, it's worked out okay:

Tuesday: vegetarian chili and cornbread
Wednesday: noodles with broccoli and carrots in an Asian peanut sauce
Friday: Parmesan tilapia, green beans, and Cuban bread

One meal with fish, one with beans, one with something else (eggs, cheese, quinoa, nuts, etc): it's a simple enough formula, if I can think about it that way. Making the menu on Sunday afternoons instead of last thing before going to bed might help with that.

Monday afternoon, I realized that I didn't actually have a recipe for vegetarian chili for Tuesday, and I didn't want to blindly trust the internet to find me a good one because neither a)soup for lunch nor b)meatless meals are Matt's favorite, so it had to be a really good recipe. My best friend is Russian Orthodox and has years of experience doing the strict Lenten fast (no meat, fish, dairy, eggs, restricted use of olive oil...), so I figured she had to have some good recipes. She definitely did! Her vegetarian chili recipe was delicious, easy, and fell into the "more like guidelines, really" category: my kind of cooking.

Sophia's Vegetarian Chili
1 onion
14 oz can diced tomatoes (or larger) OR 2 tomatoes, diced
A few splashes of vegetable broth
15 oz can black beans, drained
15 oz can kidney beans, drained
Frozen kernel corn

Sauté the onion in oil with salt and garlic. When translucent, add tomatoes and vegetable broth. Simmer and add spices. (I used hot Mexican chili powder, marjoram, cumin, and paprika, and didn't really measure any of them; just use whatever your family will prefer.) Stir in beans and frozen corn. For a heartier meal, serve over cooked rice or stir in one cup of cooked rice before serving. I let Little Bear have a little grated cheddar cheese on top too, but I liked it just fine without the cheese.

I thought I took a photo, but now I can't find it. You can imagine how bright and colorful it was, though, with the corn, beans and tomatoes!

22 February 2015

Crazy February weather

As I've been glorying in the beautiful warm weather we've been having recently, courtesy of the latest "polar vortex"—40 degrees by midday Saturday!—I conveniently forgot about one aspect of warmer places' winters that we don't like borrowing: ice storms.

It's 36 degrees right now. Freezing rain has been coming down since early this morning, and the roads are pretty much impassible. Our pastor had trouble making it five miles between the rectory and the church on flat city streets, in his built-for-off-roading jeep, so it would definitely be imprudent for us to attempt the drive in from where we live in the hills north of town. My parents live one hill closer to town than us, and had seen at least five cars in the ditch by 8:30 am.

This morning we lit a blessed candle while we read today's readings, along with the reflections from the Magnificat Lenten Companion and Fr. Robert Barron, since making in in to town for Mass wasn't possible. We're down to less than half a gallon of drinking water in the house, though... we'd planned to stop and fill the water jugs on our way home from Mass. Once the road crews get some sand down, we shouldn't have too much trouble making it to my parents' house, as long as we don't try to go down the other side of their hill, and we can fill the jugs there for this week.

Despite today's ice, the warm weather is still enjoyable. Yesterday Matt hauled wood—we're still lighting a fire in the evenings, although with the warm sunny days (and all the baking I've been doing) the house stays warm enough until then by itself. Five minutes after going outside, he stuck his head back in the door to let me know it that it was too warm for him to wear a coat. I dressed lightly myself, and put Little Bear in a lighter hat and mittens, but kept him in his winter coat and snowpants so he wouldn't get soaked playing in the snow.

We played outside for at least an hour, and Little Bear didn't want to come in!

I hope that whatever wintery weather you've wound up with, you're enjoying your weekend!

20 February 2015

Seven Quick Takes

Seven very quick takes tonight, joining the party at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Surely the second-trimester energy surge can't be gone by 23 weeks. I am exhausted. Constantly. And Little Bear is either also tired or is picking up on my tiredness and saying to himself, "Mama doesn't have the energy to make me behave, so let's see how much I can get away with!" Trying to deal with which makes me even more tired... Maybe that's not fair; he's a great kid most of the time, but lately when he does act out, it's been more overt and overwhelming than usual. We're still waiting on his top two-year molars, so maybe that fun is beginning?

I don't understand the 40 bags for 40 days thing. I mean, I understand the idea; you take one bag of stuff out of the house (donate/get rid of) for each day of Lent, physically decluttering the house alongside our spiritual decluttering. But I don't understand where people come up with 40 bags of stuff. I love decluttering, so the idea was really appealing, but then I thought about it and walked around the house, and I don't think I could find anywhere near that amount of stuff without, I don't know, paring us all down to minimalist wardrobes and getting rid of all the clothes I have saved for the new baby. Maybe the fact that I just said "I love decluttering" should have been a clue that it wouldn't work for me... I don't think I ever go to the used bookstore without bringing some books to trade in for credit, or to the thrift store without a bag of clothes or household goods that we don't need or use. BUT, this time around I'm more confident in my "babies really don't need much stuff" stance, and I now have a pretty good idea how much clothing Little Bear actually wore/wears between laundry days. There's a part of me that does still say "but what if we need that?" for all three pairs of not-quite-identical overalls, so going through the kid-clothes-boxes would probably be a good way of making myself say "no, we don't need that" along with "Lord, I trust you" this Lent.

Maternity support belts. I'd never heard of them until yesterday, and it sounds like a gimicky piece of unnecessary "stuff" that women have survived pregnancy without for thousands of years... But my chiropractor said she thought that wearing one would really help my sciatica. Everything goes back into place easily when I get adjusted, and then it just as easily slides back out; apparently my left leg was a full inch longer than my right this week. She thought that using a maternity support belt would help keep things in place longer. Anyone have experience using one? If you had sciatica, did it help?

Our jeep spent this week in the shop, and now has a very shiny new rear door and lots of new underpinnings that we can't see but I'm sure are worth whatever the other people's insurance had to pay to have it fixed. It's been a month today since we were hit; I'm so glad that at least the physical damages have been taken care of! The other people's insurance has not yet done anything that I can see toward paying for my ER visit and ultrasound after the accident, but now our auto insurance is involved (we tried so hard to not involve them, since we weren't at fault and we really didn't want them deciding to up our premiums), so maybe they will be able to get the other insurance to hurry up.

Driving a rental all week definitely cemented some key characteristics of our next vehicle, whenever our jeep finally dies. Basically, we want not-a-2014-Jeep-Patriot: it needs to be something higher off the ground, with a bigger engine, heavier, no hatchback, more carrying space... a crew cab pickup was mentioned as a possibility, as was (jokingly, at least for many years) a 12-passenger van. It was discouraging paying attention to other vehicles around town and noticing how low to the ground so many SUVs are anymore; it was scary being so low! You can't see over snowbanks, or sometimes even where the edges of the road are.

Tonight's supper was supposed to be tuna noodle casserole (or tuna tetrazzini, if you want to be fancy-sounding). I cooked the pasta this morning and stuck it in the fridge, knowing that we'd be out from 11:30ish until 5 and wanting to have a head start on supper. I over-did things this afternoon, though, and standing over the stove making a white sauce just did not sound like something I could do, so I took advantage of the chilled noodles to quickly turn supper into a tuna pasta salad with frozen peas and a diced tomato. I'd used tri-color rotini, so it was very pretty! And simple, of course. I love pasta salads, because they can be all-in-one meals: the starch (pasta), the protein (tuna), the veggies (peas and tomato). Better yet, it's cheap: it came out to less than $5 for a full meal with enough leftovers for lunch tomorrow!

On Tuesday morning, I brought the groceries into the kitchen and then went down the hall to grab something. Little Bear had everything unpacked by the time I got back. 

Canned beans and tomatoes were on sale for just 59 cents... Just in time for Lent! And for tower-building, apparently.

19 February 2015


Sometimes it seems like I'm either in the kitchen all day long, or not at all. That's not a complaint—I like cooking and baking! If I don't have other things I have to be doing with my day, though, or if there are things to do but I'd like to have a halfway-legitimate excuse for putting them off, I'm likely to end up in the kitchen adding things to my to-make list at least as quickly as I'm crossing them off. Baking inspires more baking, or something like that.

It doesn't happen every day; yesterday I baked a loaf of sandwich bread, and then didn't go back into the kitchen until I started supper. Yes, I found a good sandwich bread recipe! I basically follow this one, from King Arthur Flour, but not exactly... I'll stick my version of the recipe at the bottom of this post.

But many days wind up working out like today. Today, I had "make granola" at the top of my to-do list; we've been out for a week or two, and I keep meaning to make more. Then Little Bear ate the last of the applesauce at breakfast, and I really didn't want to have to buy more... but we had apples in the fridge, so I called my sister for her recipe and threw the apples and spices in the slow cooker for eight hours.

This batch of granola is a little blonder than normal; somehow I hadn't realized I was out of molasses, so I replaced it with a mixture of honey and agave. And I used raisins instead of nuts. So it's different, but still good.

With the applesauce cooking and Little Bear asking for a snack, I remembered that we'd finished off a loaf of banana bread a couple of days ago... Time for another quick bread. I played with my bran muffin recipe a little bit to make them even higher in fiber, and I love how they turned out—sweet, slightly moist but with a little crunch to the outside, and so good for us!

Fiber Muffins
3 cups bran flakes
1 cup flour
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
1/4 cup salad oil
3/4 to 1 cup diced prunes

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Mix together bran flakes, flour, wheat germ, sugar, soda and salt. In a small bowl, thoroughly combine egg, buttermilk and oil; pour into dry ingredients and mix until moistened. Fold in chopped prunes. Portion into muffin tins and bake at 400 for 15 minutes.

And the promised bread recipe: I'm sure that you could follow the recipe as it's written directly on their website, but I can't tell you for sure, because I have strong opinions about properly proofing my yeast and their recipe said to throw everything in together, and I said noooooo and did it my way instead. So I know that the recipe works if I proof the yeast; can't tell you what will happen if you don't.

Not-crumbly Sandwich Bread
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
2 1/4 teaspoons dry active yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups flour
1 cup whole grain flour (wheat, spelt, etc)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons salad oil

Heat water and milk together until they reach a temperature of between 110 and 125 degrees F (warm to the touch, but not hot). Mix in yeast and sugar, and set aside until there's a full layer, at least 1 cm, of bubbles on top. In a mixing bowl, combine flours and salt. When yeast mixture is ready, pour in over the flour mixture along with the oil. Combine to form a smooth dough, kneading for 6 to 8 minutes. Return to bowl and place in a warm spot, covered with a towel, until the dough has doubled in size (1 to 2 hours).

Shape risen dough into an 8-inch log and place in a greased loaf pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and return to a warm place, allowing it to rise until the crown is 1" above the rim of the pan. (Remove plastic wrap) Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 to 35 minutes. Cool completely before slicing.

So far we've been very happy with this recipe; it's held up well for sandwiches, toast, grilled cheese... and we haven't had to cut too thick of slices to get it to hold together.

And I have to say, I am so thankful that Little Bear loves cooking and baking as much as I do; I know there's no way all of this would be possible if he didn't want to be in the kitchen helping me. Hopefully Kit will follow her brother's example and allow me to keep spending time in the kitchen like this!

18 February 2015

Lent beginnings and meatless meals

Another year, another Ash Wednesday, another Lent. Unexpectedly, today has been an unusually pleasant, peaceful day in the Shifflerhaus. Little Bear has been happy and helpful all day, it's beautiful and warm and sunny outside, and I've been so... peaceful today. Not being able to follow the fasting regs because I've been pregnant/nursing was really frustrating the last three Lents, and today it just hasn't. It's a facet of who I am right now, of my particular vocation at this particular point in my life, and I'm content with that. I'd like to think that I feel this way because I've grown this year in not feeling like I need to compare myself to others and make sure I'm "doing Lent" the same way to the same visible degree as they are... And hopefully I have a little bit, but I know that I haven't grown this much; this has to be grace. 

We'd talked about Lent and sacrifices and I had some ideas, but nothing that struck me as this is what I'm supposed to do this year until this afternoon, as I'm realizing that this being at peace in my role and with my vocation, being content instead of stressing about so many things, is what God wants for me, and is something my family needs of me. I think that I was given today to see how it could be, how God wants me to be... and so now I have a direction for my Lent: Working on being joyful regardless of circumstances, content in the life God is giving me instead of comparing to others, and being more open to God's grace and peace.

As we start Lent off today with a day of fast and abstinence, I sat down with last year's lists and two of my favorite cookbooks, A Continual Feast and When You Fast, to come up with a master list of meatless meals for this Lent. After trying to make this week's menu last Sunday night and being unable to think of anything meatless other than tuna noodle casserole, I need a good list to look at! We agreed to a Lenten practice of two meatless days a week, Wednesday and Friday, at least one having fish; practically speaking, I'll often be cooking meatless on Tuesdays as well because Matt takes supper with him to class that night (so he won't be eating at home) and he'll need meatless leftovers for Wednesday's lunch. I'll probably wind up not using all of these and finding some other things that sound good, but in case anyone else needs inspiration, I thought I'd share.

With fish:
Tuna noodle casserole
Salmon cakes/burgers
Pan bagno
Parmesan tilapia
Fish tacos
Spaghetti with clams
Clam chowder
Salmon quiche
Tuna pasta salad

No fish:
Noodles with peanut sauce
Grilled vegetable burritos
Crustless spinach quiche
Vegetarian chili
Broccoli potato egg bake
Vegetable stir fry with peanuts
Minestrone with tortellini 
Macaroni and cheese
Bean and rice burritos
Bean enchiladas 
Vegetable pizza
Pasta & veggies in balsamic garlic sauce
Veggies & rice with sweet & sour sauce 
Spicy rice and beans
Monterey spaghetti 
Quinoa caprese salad
Waffles or pancakes with eggs

What are some of your go-to Lenten meals?

17 February 2015

Grinding 'bou on Shrove Tuesday

I don't know about y'all, but I'm kind of looking forward to not looking at meat all day tomorrow... 

Obviously it goes without saying that I'm super thankful for all of this meat for the freezer! My sciatica is just so very done with all of this standing, and I'll be grateful for a break from smelling (and smelling like) caribou meat for a while. At 4 this afternoon, I finally finished vacuum sealing the last of the meat and putting it all in the freezer in a not-at-all-organized fashion, where it'll stay until my feet will let me stand on them again. The last roasts were packaged and frozen by last night; today I ground 13 pounds of burger and packaged it in 1lb bricks, along with seven packs of stew meat, six packs of strips (for stroganoff, stir fry, etc) and four packs of calf muscle that will need to cook for hours and hours in the slow cooker because if we'd tried to remove all of the sinew now we would have wound up with hardly any meat, but it'll be perfect for shredding for sandwiches.

Little Bear had a blast watching the grinder: "Ground caribou, ground caribou, I love ground caribou! Look, it's coming out of grinder!"

So that's a good 30 meals of meat in the freezer, not counting all of the roasts and steaks... which I don't have an exact number on, but I think it's around 15 packs, so we pretty much got enough meat off of one caribou for one meal a week through next hunting season! That's wonderful.

A lot of people take their game to local meat processors instead of doing all of this work themselves, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that—if I was in the first trimester and sick, or close to due/had a little baby, I would be super thankful to not have to do all of the processing at home. But I was thinking, as I was grinding the 'bou this morning, how glad I was that we were doing it ourselves; you just don't get as much meat if a commercial processor does it, because they don't have an incentive to get every little bit of meat possible—I spent a lot of time over the past few days carefully scraping little bits of meat away from myelin and sinew, saving every tiny bit to be ground into burger. That use of time doesn't make economic sense for a processor who's trying to get through a bunch of people's meat as quickly as possible. But for us, the additional meat was definitely worth the extra time and effort.

Since I was aaaaall done working with meat by tonight, but it's Shrove Tuesday and I wanted to make something fun (and good!) before Lent starts tomorrow, Little Bear and I made blueberry pancakes, bacon, and yogurt with fruit for supper tonight. Adding the blueberries after I poured the batter into the skillet was Little Bear's job—his fingers were so purple by supper time!

Pancakes and eggs, minus the bacon, might make its way onto my list of meatless meals for this Lent, but more likely for lunches than suppers. Matt isn't the biggest fan of breakfast for supper, but I played the "it's tradition!" card today—pancakes are a traditional Shrove Tuesday food in many countries, including England and Ireland, where some of our ancestors were from. 

Have a blessed Ash Wednesday, and a good start to your Lent! 

16 February 2015

Valentines weekend

On Valentines Day evening, my true love gave to me... A caribou! 

Little Bear and I dropped Matt off to head out hunting with my dad and two other guys at early o'clock Saturday morning. Once they got into the hunting area, an hour down the trail by snowmachine, they spotted a group of caribou on a hillside across the river. According to the range finder they were almost 250 yards away. Matt was the first to take a shot, and he put his shot exactly where he intended. Later he said that if he'd had more time to think about how far away they were he might have tried to see if they could get closer, but his rifle was sighted in at 200 yards and he felt confident he could make the shot. And clearly he was right! 

I'm so happy for him! This was his was his first big game animal, and he was pretty excited. And we're so, so grateful for the meat; it's healthier than beef, and we like the taste much better, and it's definitely much less expensive than anything remotely comparable at the store: natural, organic, etc red meat with pretty much no fat in it at all? That's crazy expensive, easily around $11 a pound here, so we never buy it. 

We spent all yesterday afternoon cutting meat, working through both hind quarters, the backstrap, tenderloins, neck meat, etc; I just have the two front quarters to cut this afternoon, and hopefully I'll be able to grind everything we're setting aside for that tomorrow so that everything will be in the freezer.

This morning, I'm spending as much time off my feet as possible so that I'll be able to make it through cutting both front quarters this afternoon; after spending most of the afternoon standing yesterday, last night and this morning I can barely walk... yay, pregnancy sciatica. I put off this afternoon's chiropractor appointment for later this week, because we need to get the meat cut and frozen as quickly as possible. I'll be very happy when Thursday afternoon gets here, though!

Most of yesterday was spent in old clothes that we didn't mind getting caribou blood on, but before we headed out to Mass yesterday morning Matt offered to snap a photo so I could link up with What I Wore Sunday.

Shirt: Anticipation, Once Upon A Child
Skirt: Cali-Fashions San Francisco, a hand-me-down from my mom's teaching days
Shoes: Sarah-Jayne, garage sale find
Necklace: freshwater pearls from my mom

We're having lovely above-0 weather right now, perfect for a shorter skirt outfit yesterday. I don't think you can really tell in the photo, but the skirt is a forest green. I'm not sure how pink became a central element of my wardrobe—many of my college friends could tell you my less-than-positive feelings about pink—but I've been finding myself wearing it pretty frequently this last year or two, particularly paired with green or brown. Or denim. Or black. Okay, so pretty much everything.

13 February 2015

Seven Quick Takes

Quote of the week, from when Little Bear (2.5) and I were grocery shopping and took a shortcut through the refrigerated sodas aisle:

Little Bear (looks around with a delighted gasp): "Mama, look at all the wine! Wine for Mama?"

...at "you can hear him two aisles over" volume, of course!

Baby notes: Kit has been dancing a lot these days—she's just big enough now that sometimes it keeps me awake at night, but it's nice to be feeling movement. The placenta is anterior this time, so it took longer to feel any movement with Kit than it did with Little Bear. I'm feeling a little discouraged by the thought that "if I'm this big at 22 weeks, I'm going to be huge by the end." Not that I've gained a lot, at all; I just look the same as I did at seven-ish months pregnant with Little Bear, and am grumpy that my maternity clothes aren't fitting the way I want them to. I know, such an insignificant thing to be unhappy about...

It definitely wouldn't be accurate to say that we're already "doing school" with Little Bear, but he's sure been having fun recently with letters and numbers. The other day he brought a number book that we'd just been using for coloring in up to the table, and asked Matt to help him trace the numbers. Ever since, he's been excitedly writing 1s on every picture he colors.

Plans for Valentines Day, anyone? Matt will be out caribou hunting all day, and potentially meeting coworkers at a local taproom in the evening, so we really aren't doing anything. I joked last night that a dead animal to cut up was exactly what I wanted for Valentines, but really, I'd be so happy to have meat in the freezer, and it would be so great for Matt to get his first big game animal. When they go hunting, I'm always conflicted on how to pray for them; the prayer usually winds up being a convoluted mess along the lines of "Lord, please bless them with a safe and successful hunt, but more importantly safe than successful, but it would really really help if they brought home meat, but Your will be done, but please bring him home safely..."

Since doing anything tomorrow is out, and the supper I made this afternoon turned out to be... edible... but not at all satisfying, we decided at the last minute to celebrate St Valentine's Vigil tonight: I quickly made waffles with strawberries and homemade whipped cream ("whippin' cream," according to Little Bear) while Matt scrambled some eggs with cheddar and onions, and we talked a little about St Valentine while we ate. Neither of us feels at all strongly about making Valentines Day romantic, but it's kind of fun to have an excuse/reminder to do something special. And it's a saint's day, and everyone knows I like celebrating saints' days! Little Bear and I will probably find some coloring pages online tomorrow while Matt is out. I don't think I have the energy for anything more complicated than that, but he's a little boy; he's not even going to realize there's such things as doilies and glitter that he's missing out on when it comes to Valentines Day crafts.

If you, too, put off actually finding anything Valentines-y for your family but are now feeling like maybe you ought to come up with something, even if only to keep the kids still and quiet while they cut out or decorate them on a snowy February weekend, check out the assortment of free printable Catholic Valentines that Kendra has up at Catholic All Year! 

If I have ink in the printer (always an uncertainty), I want to put this one quoting St Augustine up on the wall tomorrow!

I realized this morning that I still hadn't attempted any of those sandwich bread recipes I was talking about last week... I pulled up the most promising-sounding of them, realized that it was going to take longer than I had before leaving for noon Mass, and put the project off again. Tomorrow I should be home aaaaaall day long with a very energetic child who fortunately likes to help in the kitchen, so hopefully I'll manage to finally give it a try. If it turns out well, I'll be sure to share the recipe. (If it fails spectacularly, you'll probably hear about it as well.)

Have a good weekend! For more quick takes, visit our hostess Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum.

12 February 2015

Things we don't understand

I don't understand... Where this week went. This is ridiculous, y'all; I managed a post every day last week. What happened? I don't know. Maybe it had something to do with all of my free moments being absorbed by a book... I guess I have time for reading or writing, but not both.

Little Bear doesn't understand... Why Mama wants to open the windowshades and turn off the lights in the middle of the day. Aren't we always telling him to keep them closed to keep the cold out? But it was 15 above today, and we have daylight again!

I don't understand... How I can be the same weight today, at 22 weeks pregnant, as I was at the beginning of pregnancy with Little Bear, yet I'm already too big for almost half of the maternity clothes that fit me well into the third trimester with him.

Matt doesn't understand... Green smoothies.

An apple, a handful of spinach, a few slices of peach and some prune juice. Yum.

Little Bear doesn't understand... The concept of "inside voices." Or at least he wants to pretend he doesn't. Good thing it's finally warm outside again!

06 February 2015

Seven Quick Takes

I have a wonderful husband. We're all still feeling under the weather from that GI bug, and Little Bear had a rough night; I was up with him almost every hour from midnight on. So when we were woken up by a loud "Mama!" at 7:15, Matt got up with him and let me sleep. When they came in to wake me up an hour later, Little Bear had been changed, dressed, fed, and had heard many stories. (Since he's still pretty clearly contagious, Matt stayed home again today rather than risk spreading this around the office.)

The band Casting Crowns, in cooperation with Focus on the Family, has been putting out a daily devotional for the month of February on "28 Days to a Thriving Marriage," with a Scripture passage, a couple of discussion questions, and a paragraph reflection. Matt and I have been going through them together; our conversations probably don't all go the way the writers anticipated, but we've enjoyed discussing philosophy together again. Nature of wisdom vs knowledge, what it means to trust God, lots of good stuff.

One question yesterday confused me, though: "If money were no object, how would you serve God with your life?" What does money have to do with it? Matt pointed out that some people may feel called to serve in the mission field but have not done so for financial/taking care of their family reasons. That makes sense, but for most of us, we're supposed to serve God where we're put, not up and choose our own path in neglect of the tasks we've been given, right? There's following God's will in our life, and then there's following our own grand vision of serving God instead of serving Him where we are right now, in the position He has put us in. I'm sure there's a Scripture passage that conveys this, but my brain is fuzzy so you'll have to settle for some Gandalf: "But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

I hate buying sandwich bread from the store. I really, really do. There's definitely something unnatural, something inorganic, about how long it lasts without molding! And after baking all of our other breads myself for so long, the texture of pre-sliced store-bought sandwich bread honestly doesn't even feel quite like bread to me. And then you're paying a minimum of $3/loaf for a little bit of flour, yeast, water and sugar? That's just silly. Matt is all in favor of me baking all of our bread, but he wants "real" sandwich bread, something that won't crumble... so I'm in search of a recipe. Of course I have to make things more difficult by insisting on not using straight white flour. ;-) Half white, half wheat/spelt/seven grain/etc is fine with me, but not 100% white. Fiber is important! I'm planning to try this one, which sounds really good by doesn't mention whether it works with wheat flour, and this one, which does say you can use up to half whole wheat. I'd think this 9-grain bread recipe would work equally well with my 7-grain blend--maybe it needs the quinoa added? I wonder if the extra protein keeps the bread from being as crumbly. Have a no-fail wheat sandwich bread recipe, that doesn't require a bread machine? Please share it!

I've seen this post on 5 reasons you shouldn't visit a new mom in the hospital going around recently, and I had to help spread it. Thank you, thank you, thank you to the nurse who wrote it! With Little Bear, I didn't really want visitors at the hospital, but I felt like I was doing something wrong by saying no. We had such problems learning to nurse, both Little Bear and I, and we might have been able to avoid some of the awfulness and/or the extra night's stay with him being under the bilirubin lights if I'd been able to spend more time with the lactation consultant and figuring out what we were doing wrong.. We're still quite a ways away from Kit's due date, but I really appreciated reading this and being reminded that it's not wrong for me to want time just with my husband and kids after a new baby is born.

Pregnancy-brain moment yesterday: I started making a batch of cookies yesterday while Matt and Little Bear assembled supper. All of the wet ingredients were assembled when they told me it was time to eat. By the time supper was cleaned up and I was able to get back to my cookies, I'd forgotten that I was only making a half batch... the baking powder and soda were both in before I remembered! Oops. I went ahead and finished them anyway, using the half-batch quantities of flour and oats (oatmeal chocolate chip cookies), and hoped they'd just be extra puffy. They turned out okay! Definitely puffier than usual, but you can't really taste a difference. Matt and Little Bear both liked them, and Kit didn't, but it's completely possible that she's just reverting to her anti-sugar stance from earlier this pregnancy. I guess I'd better make something else sweet to test that theory, right?

Sometimes it feels like being a mom means being stuck in a cycle of barely (or not even) accomplishing everything necessary in the day, falling asleep exhausted and hoping for half a night's sleep, and then getting up too early in order to start over again. It's hard to find scraps of time to take care of ourselves, physically, emotionally and spiritually. If this sounds like your life these days, have you heard about the Catholic Conference 4 Moms? From Friday, March 6, through Monday, March 9, this FREE online conference will feature 28 great speakers, including Rachel Balducci, Emily Stimpson, and Susie Lloyd. All you have to do is sign up here, and each day the conference organizers will send out an email with links to the day's (free!) conference talks. And the best part? You can watch or listen to whichever talks you want each day, at any point throughout the day --- I'm so glad that they aren't at set times, or else between the unpredictability of having a 2.5-year-old and our time difference from the rest of the country, I'd probably wind up missing most of them.

"It's hard to haul wood when your eyelashes keep freezing together." -- Matt

It's not that cold outside, only -15 F, but cold enough that spending much time outside is uncomfortable. I'm so grateful that Matt is home today, because even though he isn't feeling wonderful, he went out in the cold to replenish our woodpile when we ran out of wood so that I didn't have to. Did you know that they don't make maternity snowpants? Not one single company. They don't exist. It's ridiculous. And it means that I get cold a lot faster when I have to go outside for long at these temperatures!

Have a good weekend! For more quick takes, head on over to This Ain't the Lyceum.

05 February 2015

Less than two weeks

...until Lent starts! Are you excited? Well, maybe not. But even if you aren't excited, are you ready?

I love observing the liturgical year. It's honestly one of my favorite parts of being Catholic; so many days have special meanings, or particular celebrations or memorials... There's such a sense of connection to the family of believers throughout the centuries, as we celebrate saints' days and walk the same annual path of prayer and praise that so many hundreds of thousands of Christians have traveled before us. Our day-to-day lives can be enriched by living the liturgical year, much more than by merely taking note of a few of the highest feasts throughout the year and then not really thinking about it the rest of the time. 

And in a particular way, the Church gives us the season of Lent as an opportunity to focus more directly on God and the things that separate us from Him. More overtly than any other liturgical season, Lent asks something of us every day. Even the secular culture recognizes that; it's common knowledge that Catholics "give something up" for Lent. 

There are actually three "pillars," if you will, of Lenten observance: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. All three should factor into our day-to-day Lenten observance in some way or another. The "giving something up" falls under fasting, along with observing Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as fast days, and abstaining from meat on all the Fridays of Lent. Fasting certainly isn't limited to food: while the sacrifice of giving up sweets for all of Lent can certainly be valuable if every time you pass up something sweet it reminds you of Christ, examining our conscience and making a real effort to permanently "give up" some bad habit that stands between us and God is also a good exercise of fasting. 

Almsgiving is pretty straightforward: finding ways to give back to God of the gifts He's given us. Many people donate the money they would have spent on whatever they've given up to charity, combining their fasting and almsgiving. Some days, the "alms" we're called to give aren't monetary: responding with charity when we're wronged. Doing a chore your spouse hates—or one that you've asked them to do and they've forgotten—without saying anything about it. Reading the same picture book for a twenty-first time in one morning. Spending an afternoon volunteering at a soup kitchen or pregnancy resource center.

Prayer can mean carving out time to read and meditate on Scripture or the writings of the saints, or adding particular prayers or devotions to your regular prayers—the Divine Mercy chaplet, the Prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian, and the Stations of the Cross are all popular during Lent. There are several sets of reflections for the Stations of the Cross geared toward children, which can allow the whole family to be more engaged.

A few resources to help with your Lenten preparations:

Lent Cometh: Perhaps everything you'll ever need to know to have the best Lent ever, a collection of Lenten posts from Catholic All Year.
Lenten Activities for Kids from CatholicMom.com.
7 Ways to Have a Good Lent from The Catholic Gentleman.

If you're looking for a daily reflection sort of thing, check out Fr. Robert Barron of Word on Fire (emails), or the Magnificat Lenten Companion (ebook), or Matthew Kelly of Dynamic Catholic (video reflections).

What resources are you using for yourself or your family this Lent that I've missed? Share links or titles below!

Don't let Ash Wednesday sneak up on you this year! If you start making a plan now for how you and your family will observe Lent, you'll be ready to enter more peacefully and prayerfully into the season. (I have a pretty good idea what we'll be doing this Lent, but haven't quite put all the pieces together yet... I'll post more when we get it figured out!)

04 February 2015

Cloth napkining

Maybe you can call this "nesting."

There's a fun GI bug going through our house, and instead of laying down today, I spent my sick-at-home, can-barely-move afternoon sitting on the floor cutting out and hemming cloth napkins, my latest foray into phasing out disposable items around the house.

Bear with me for a little math... Buying store brand paper napkins, our family uses about $0.20 worth of napkins daily, more if I use napkins instead of towels or paper towels to clean up messes and spills. That comes to a minimum of $73 a year for a family of three, for the cheapest paper napkins available (numbers may be lower in areas with a lower cost-of-living). That's a lot of money for something you're going to use once and throw away! Paper towels are even more expensive, although it's harder to come up with an average number used daily. 

A family friend salvaged several lengths of sturdy cotton and flannel that someone was just throwing away, and shared them with me a while back. Today I pulled out two good-sized pieces of cotton yardage that Matt and I both liked for napkin-fabric, and in a couple of hours, I had the beginnings of a stash of everyday cloth napkins.

They unfold to about the size of a dishtowel, so they're bigger than paper napkins, but Matt wanted to make them on the larger side.

We already had two sets of nice, 'company' cloth napkins that we'd received as wedding gifts, but especially since having Little Bear, we've been too intimidated to use them at the table for fear of staining them and not feeling able to use them for company anymore. Because yes, cloth napkins are going to get stained, and maybe I'll be able to get the stains out but maybe I won't. Now, that's not a problem: with everyday-use napkins, it won't matter if they get stained, and the nice napkins can remain nice for the times we have company—and little ones can use the regular napkins when company is over, or maybe I'll eventually make a couple of kids' company napkins and any that get stained will just roll over into the everyday-use category. Or not, because the kids won't care anyway.

I was able to get seven napkins from the plaid, and hopefully tomorrow I'll get at least as many from that green material behind them. If I want to keep doing laundry just twice a week I should probably have at least twice that many napkins, but the thrift store often has yardage people bought for a project and then decided they didn't want, or else I'll watch for sales at the fabric store (or help my sisters de-clutter their fabric stash—that would work too!) Either way, I'm confident that I can fill out our fledgling napkin stash very economically.

03 February 2015

Idea of a cooking magazine

Ever since a friend brought me a copy of the Food Network Magazine to read in the hospital following Little Bear's birth, we've been subscribers. Matt and I both studied design in college, and have enjoyed discussing/debating the layout and visual choices of FNM's editors. How colors are used to influence the viewer's perception, why a page was arranged the way it was, what added meaning that wood-grain background gives the image of a particular dish. I can't tell you how publication design and graphic design vary, exactly, but they definitely do or we wouldn't have so many times where one of us is just sure that they did something wrong, and the other thinks it's the most logical thing they could possibly have come up with. It's fun.

We didn't just read it for the design, of course; we both enjoy cooking, and several recipes we found in FNM have made it into my index card recipe file. But as much fun as we have reading it, we've realized that by and large, we've stopped cooking from it. Stopped finding any recipes that we wanted to try, or that didn't have exotic or expensive ingredients that we couldn't justify buying. It's seemed, too, that there is a focus on "new," "unique," "innovative" types of recipes, which generally isn't our style—give me good old-fashioned classic recipes any day. The kale-centric latest issue was the breaking point; I read all the way through without finding a single recipe that I even considered making.

The same day, a free sample issue of Cook's Country magazine showed up in the mailbox.

Clean lines, earth tones, modular layout. Classic foods, feature articles that really interested us, an in-depth explanation of the how's and why's of many of the recipes. They even had 16 removable recipe cards for 30-minute suppers—full suppers!—a concept I remember and miss from the Taste of Home magazines my mom subscribed to when I was a kid. The removable recipe cards, that is. And pretty much all of them were exactly the type of foods we enjoy. I was sold.

Cook's Country is much shorter than Food Network Magazine; the CC trial issue had 32 pages (not counting the removable cards), compared to the 122 pages of the current (Jan-Feb) FNM, which was itself a lightweight after the roughly 250-page Dec issue. CC does not have any ads, though, which make up a substantial amount of FNM's bulk. FNM also uses a larger typeface than CC, and employs much more white space. Both magazines are comparably priced for a year's subscription, although CC prints 6 issues a year to FNM's 10.

After reading through Cook's Country, and looking back at the recent issues of Food Network Magazine, we've decided that Cook's Country is a better fit for our interests and cooking style. I switched our subscription today, and look forward to making many of the recipes in this issue shortly!

A few other things we like about Cook's Country
• Their test kitchen makes each recipe a minimum of 20 times, to be sure that it really works—and with many of the recipes, they'll tell you what shortcuts or alterations didn't work and why.
• Each issue, they review and rank several varieties of a food you'd buy at a grocery store, using only common brands everyone can find—this issue it was mayonnaise—talking about healthfulness, taste, quality, and other factors.
• There's a pictorial recipe index on the back cover, so you can find whatever recipe you're looking for without first having to find the table of contents!
• The focus is all on food and cooking.

If I was the layout editor of a cooking magazine, it would pretty much look like this. (And I would probably be told that it's very technically correct, but a little boring, and to go try again ;-)  If I was in charge of content, so far I haven't seen anything I'd change. It's definitely not what everyone is looking for, is certainly on the old-fashioned side, but I am exactly their target audience and I'm so happy to have discovered this magazine.

[This post was not sponsored in any way; I'm just excited about finding this new-to-us magazine, and thought we probably weren't the only ones who had never heard of it before and might enjoy it.]

02 February 2015

Menu plan Monday

Three "real" posts are bouncing around in my head, but each one requires more time and brainpower than I have left tonight, so let's just fall back on a classic: starting off the week with a menu.

Part of sticking to our newly revised budget (I did get it done before February! Three hours before midnight totally counts) involves making a menu every Sunday, making a grocery list based on that menu, and then not deviating from either. So far (two days in, I know, I know), it's working: last night I menu-planned, today I went to the store and realized just how often I add things to the cart that aren't on the list... this morning's shopping trip was much less fun than usual. I guess I understand why many people think of grocery shopping as a chore.

And then there's the meals. I'm only planning out suppers; breakfasts are usually hot or cold cereal, occasionally eggs or waffles on the weekends, and lunch is usually leftovers or sandwiches. So I'm making sure we keep basic staples around, and baking bread (rolls, muffins, breadsticks, etc) frequently.

This week's supper menu:

Monday, Feb 2: pork chops with apples, onions & raisins; spelt flour biscuits; green beans

Tuesday, Feb 3: hot chicken-spinach-tomato sandwiches on homemade buns; carrot sticks with ranch dip

Wednesday, Feb 4: sausage veggie egg strata with hash brown potatoes; strawberry-rhubarb compote

Thursday, Feb 5: supper at my parents' 

Friday, Feb 6: dill-lemon salmon; steamed broccoli; some kind of crusty bread... not sure if I'll go more with a baguette-style or a big dense wheel of Cuban bread

Saturday, Feb 7: Cincinnati chili over spaghetti; spinach salad

Sunday, Feb 8: bourbon chicken; brown rice; green salad

I do still need to come up with desserts for Friday and Sunday (we're having guests), but I intentionally waited until after today's shopping trip so I'd be forced to be creative with what we have instead of picking up extra ingredients. There's fruit in the freezer, flour in the cupboard... I'll think of something. Somethings. It'll be fun.

There's always a chance "fun" will mean a panicked scouring of Pinterest at 3:30 on Friday, but I'll try not to let it come to that. :-)

Do you have a menu plan for the week? If you'd like to share it, that would be great! I'd love some new ideas for the coming weeks.

01 February 2015

Septuagesima and Super Bowl Sunday

I haven't linked up with What I Wore Sunday in... a long, long time. I don't even remember. But I realized recently that, with Little Bear, I was so good at staying behind the camera that we literally have just one photo of me pregnant with him, and I happen to hate how I look in that photo. And we have very few photos where I look at all pregnant with Alex. So today, at 20 weeks pregnant with Kit, I was feeling pregnant-but-pretty and figured it might be time to try WIWS again.

In the old calendar, today is known as Septuagesima: seventy days before Easter. We're moving quickly toward Lent, y'all. We're starting to hear more themes of sacrifice, of putting God first, of getting ready. More about Lent, and how I'm oddly excited for it this year, later this week. Today in his homily, Father spoke about suffering; how at times suffering can seem to drag on, and on, and on, wearing us down. We should try to accept it as purgative, Father reminded us, instead of complaining. I'm going to try to remember that this week, as my sciatica continues to flare up at the most inconvenient times.

Dress: Liz Lange Maternity, thrifted
Cardigan: GNW, thrifted

"You look pregnant today!" a friend exclaimed after Mass this morning. Yep, I do... We're halfway through! I'm kind of avoiding the scale these days, going on the principle that if I don't know how much I've gained I won't stress about gaining weight and then be frustrated with myself for being unhappy about gaining when that's supposed to happen when you're pregnant... Complicated? Yes. Silly? Yeah, probably. But I don't feel like I've gained very much, and last we checked I hadn't, so right now, holding onto that (possibly false) knowledge is letting me be happy with what I'm seeing in the mirror these days.

This afternoon, what I was seeing was a very subtle green-and-blue combo that I'm pretty sure most of my family—who were halfheartedly cheering for the Patriots on the grounds that the Seahawks won last year—didn't pick up on. Did you watch the Super Bowl? What a game! I love games when you honestly can't say which team will win, when it comes down to the fourth quarter and one team is ahead, then the other, then it's "obvious" how the game will end, but something unexpected happens... That incredible catch by Jermaine Kearse, when he somehow managed to keep the ball airborne and away from the Patriot defender until he could bring it in... The beautiful, perfectly-timed jumping interception by Malcolm Butler, preventing what looked like a Seattle win...

We'd planned to have my parents and the kids still at home over to our place for the game, but at the last minute out tv decided that it couldn't receive that station; we only get broadcast television, and sometimes signal is spotty this far out with hills between us and the towers in town. Fortunately, my dad could get the game fine—they're only 10 minutes away, but on the town-facing side of the hills—so we packed up the food we'd made and headed over there. It was kind of funny how obvious it was that my mom and I think similarly... For "Super Bowl food," she'd made deviled eggs, salmon dip with crackers, and a crock pot with sausages for sandwiches. We'd made deviled eggs, a plate of cheese and crackers, and cocktail sausages wrapped in crescent roll dough. I'm not sure where it went, but when I do find this recipe again I'll have to share it: half of the cocktail sausages I made plain, for ketchup-dipping if the kids desired, but the other half were "reuben dogs" with sauerkraut, pickle relish and Swiss cheese tucked into the crescent roll dough with them! Mmmm. I'm definitely adding that to my collection of go-to finger food recipes.

It was a pleasant, relaxed Sunday, and temperatures are looking up for at least the next few days; we might have several positive-temperature days in a row before it drops back into the -20s! Let's hope so... it would be nice to take Little Bear out sledding tomorrow.