31 May 2015

Pentecost sundaes and a long weekend

Happy octave of Pentecost! It confused Little Bear a bit this week that 12:00 meant "Angelus time" instead of "Regina Caeli time," but Easter has ended; time to switch Marian prayers and antiphons. We talked last Sunday about the Holy Spirit descending on the Apostles and Mary, with the rushing wind and tongues of flame; he kept looking at me skeptically, so we went and found his little statue of St Jude and pointed out the flame above his head, and then it seemed to connect a little better.

He was much more excited about our Pentecost dessert:

Vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, and strawberries cut in triangles to resemble tongues of flame. Yum! It's kind of a silly tradition, but I'm glad we do it every Pentecost; eventually Little Bear and Kit will be old enough to understand about the descent of the Holy Spirit, but even at very-little-kid-level, ice cream sundaes with strawberries is pretty easy to get excited about. Little Bear knows we're celebrating, even if he doesn't get exactly why just yet.

We all enjoyed a long, sunny weekend; Matt got two days off work this year over Memorial Day, so we got a lot more done around the house than I ever could have by myself: the garage is all reorganized, the new car seat does fit in the car, I'm actually all caught up on cleaning, and Matt filled my planters so we could plant herbs, salad greens, and nasturtiums. Tuesday morning he went out to the range with my dad and brother, and I enjoyed a quiet morning of putting my feet up and passively making a batch of yogurt while Little Bear played with my two youngest siblings and helped them fold laundry. Matt brought along his grandfather's M1 carbine, which they all enjoyed shooting, and on which Matt discovered he is quite accurate: at one point they put a water-filled milk gallon out at 200 yards to see who could hit it first; my dad and brother were both shooting higher-powered rifles with scopes while Matt only had the iron sights, but he hit it with his first shot!

Matt also taught Little Bear about a very important part of summer this weekend:

Water guns! The two of them came in soaked and grinning from ear to ear.

Monday evening we invited my family and our pastor over for a Memorial Day barbecue. I made potato salad and a veggie tray, and Matt grilled asparagus and pork. He spiral-cut two pork loins, stuffed them with a combination of apples, onions and rosemary, tied them up into roulades, and added some applewood chips to his charcoal to give them a nice smoked flavor. It was so good! He's excited to try the technique with other fillings over the summer.

The roulades, each 2 pounds, grilled over indirect heat (coals pushed to the sides) for about an hour until they reached an internal temp of 150 F, but he says next time he'd cook them to 140 F or 145 F instead.

It's been rare for us to host even small events like this one; it does take some work, but we were both really glad that we did! And it's apparent that we need to get into the habit of inviting priests over more often; after Father called to confirm that he was coming, Little Bear exclaimed, "No, but Father has to stay at the church!" We enjoyed having everyone over, and Little Bear did decide that he was happy to see Father (and his puppy!)

The rest of the week/this weekend was full of contractions and other aspects of prodromal labor (real labor that goes for a couple of hours and then just stops), not resulting in a baby but enough to keep me pretty unproductive. I'm trying to actively choose to believe that I'm just not going to go into labor for several weeks yet, to help myself try to ignore everything and keep being a functional mom/cook/housekeeper. Otherwise, if I let myself wonder each time "is this actually it?" and think about how I'm feeling, start timing contractions, etc, I'm just going to wind up spending half my time lying down being miserable.

The one flaw in this plan is that I was only at the hospital for maybe three hours before Little Bear was born, despite going in before I was even completely convinced I was in labor... and while I don't want to go in any earlier than I absolutely have to again this time, a) subsequent babies supposedly come more quickly, and b) I'm GBS-positive again, so I should ideally have completed the course of IV antibiotics before giving birth. Which only takes a half hour, so it shouldn't be a big deal, but if I do as good a job of ignoring/waiting as last time, I'm not certain how close I'll wind up cutting it.

I hope you had a good weekend. Hopefully I'll either manage to be better about posting this week, or else I'll have baby photos next time I post! Don't forget to stop by This Ain't The Lyceum for more SQT posts.

23 May 2015

Babies, islands, and pickup trucks full of chocolate pudding

I.e., seven quick/late takes. Linking up with This Ain't The Lyceum, as usual!

My dad and siblings take "running season" seriously: Beginning in late April as the roads dry out, they start running in preparation for a 10k race that takes place the night of the Saturday closest to the summer solstice. Every year since, hmm, probably since I was 12 or so, Dad and all of the kids old enough have spent those two months running pretty much every night, working their way up to a little over 6 miles on the hilly dirt roads. This year, though, Dad and the two still at home but old enough to participate settled into a different rhythm that usual; they run every other night instead of every night, and have focused on running non-stop over increasingly long distances instead of making speed/time the focus from the beginning. Nearly a month before the race, all three of them are already running longer distances than any of us ever have, and doing it without taking any walking breaks.

At the beginning of this running season, my dad challenged my 11yo brother to run 8 miles non-stop before race day. What was the incentive? my brother wanted to know. A pickup truck full of chocolate pudding! our 6yo sister suggested. Everybody laughed, but it became a running joke, and then he started steadily adding on the miles and Dad realized he'd better figure out the logistics of the improbable bribe just in case. My brother reached 8 miles non-stop on Friday, and yesterday Dad brought home a plastic kiddie pool to stick in the back end of our 20yo brother's pickup (not his own, of course! :-) and fill with a giant batch of instant chocolate pudding. They haven't done it yet—they don't have nearly enough pudding powder—but I'm looking forward to seeing them make it happen!

So, late takes this week. And I didn't manage to post at all since last Friday. Matt spent most of the week on the island of Kodiak setting up a video conferencing classroom, and having Little Bear all to myself day and night while being this pregnant was... draining. It's hard enough not having any energy and needing to sit down all the time when I have someone else to help with him. It was sweet that Little Bear was so happy to see his dad on Skype in the evenings, though, and when he woke up on Friday and saw Matt he was so incredibly happy. "Daddy is home!!!" He was very sure Matt shouldn't have to go in to work that morning. Matt didn't have much time to see Kodiak outside of the campus—there was more work to be done than they'd allotted time for—but he did make it down to the docks one lunch, visiting a fish processor and arranging to bring home some halibut and pacific cod fresh from the Gulf of Alaska! I was so glad to have him home Thursday night; everyone had been telling him that the weather forecast doesn't really mean anything and you won't know if your plane will be able to leave the island pretty much until you get to the airport, but all of his flights were fine.

Since he'd worked late one night in Kodiak and overtime isn't allowed anymore, thanks to huge state budget cuts stemming from the low price of oil, Matt was supposed to get an early start to his Memorial Day weekend. He did get to leave work at 3:30pm Friday, but instead of it being the relaxing start to a long weekend, he had to meet me at the hospital: sharp abdominal pain, cramping, and trouble talking through the pain had my midwife sending me in to the women's center to be checked again because I'm still not full term. Soon, child, but not yet! They didn't see contraction patterns on the monitor and I wasn't showing signs of labor progressing, so we were sent back home around 6:30. I can't wait for next Friday, when I'll be full term and won't have to worry about early labor! I can stay at home as long as I want to and see what happens, rather than needing to go in right away to stop any potential labor so baby doesn't come too early.

UPS delivered Baby Kit's new car seat not even an hour after we got home from the hospital. That made us laugh! We still have to try it in the car to make sure it fits, which can't happen until we rearrange the garage because as it is now the right rear door can only open about 5 inches, but hopefully it will work and we'll be ready whenever Kit does arrive. We ordered the Britax Roundabout; anyone have any experience with it? This will be the first Britax I've used, but a friend who has nannied for years highly recommended it.

I'm hoping/planning to wear Kit much more than I did Little Bear; I definitely realize that I'm running out of time here, but I'm looking into simple, lightweight carriers like a ring sling or maybe a baby k'tan or mei tai. I never liked carrying Little Bear in his carseat and only rarely did it, and I'd much rather slip Kit into a carrier to go into the store or whatnot. With Little Bear, I thought I'd use the carrier more in the winter than I did; when it got down to -30 F or colder, sometimes I did carry him in it, but more often I felt like I could keep him warmer carrying him against my body wrapped in an afghan. I do have an ergo and a moby wrap, but the ergo is too big for an infant and the moby is so huge and hot and heavy and inconvenient. I'd like something simple that I could just leave on in the car between errands, instead of making a huge production out of getting ready to take the kids in for every stop. Plus I never did manage to figure out how to nurse Little Bear in the ergo or moby, and from what I've seen and heard, ring slings are really easy to nurse in.

Since I'm talking/thinking about babies so much anyway, I have to share this medical animation I found of the birth process. It was so neat to see how the baby turns and moves through the birth canal, and how dilation and effacement work.

Have a good weekend. To all of those serving our country and their families, thank you for all of your sacrifices!

15 May 2015

Seven Quick Takes


"No, no! Don't say 'hmm hmm hmm!' Say real words!" (Singing to him at bedtime)

"But, how am I going to wash this beautiful red strawberry when you're sitting on the step stool, Mama?" (The tenth strawberry he'd liberated from the fridge in a half hour)

A little while back, our pastor started having us sing the Agnus Dei in Latin instead of English. I love it! And he has done a great job of explaining the importance of including Latin because of its universality to the Church; even while the majority of the Mass is in the vernacular, we still do have a common language shared by the entire Church around the world. Using a bit of that common language is a reminder of our communion with the rest of the Church. And the Kyrie (Greek) and Agnus Dei (Latin) are the only diversions we make from the vernacular, so it's nothing super complicated. Case in point: 2-year-old Little Bear (who obviously can't read words or music) picked it up all on his own just from hearing it at Mass; I didn't even know that he knew it until yesterday, when I'd been singing other things from a chant book he'd brought me, and he took the book and flipped until he saw something starting with an A and started singing the Agnus Dei all by himself!

I don't think there's anything quite like the realization that you've been counting wrong and the baby could safely arrive in two weeks. Little Bear was 38 weeks 2 days, and I'd been counting to 38 again as the early end of when this baby could arrive, but yesterday my midwife said that it would be fine, and not too terribly unlikely given this pregnancy and my history, if baby Kit arrived at 37-something. Oh. Um, okay, that's exciting... There are baby clothes in a box somewhere, and we really should get our act together on picking out and ordering a car seat...

It is ridiculously hot here. Hot for here, that is; I suppose I have to qualify that. I'm not sure how hot it got today, but it's still slightly above 70 degrees outside now, at 11 pm, which means that despite me not turning on the oven or stove all day, it's 80 degrees inside. Which makes it kiiiiind of impossible for the very pregnant lady to sleep. Houses don't have AC here, because why would Alaska need AC? It took two hours to get Little Bear to sleep tonight because he was uncomfortably warm, and unfortunately we can't figure out a way to cool his room: putting a fan in the room is too loud (we can't hear him over the monitor, only a loud static-like sound from the fan), and if we open his window the shade will bang against the sill from even the slightest breeze outside (we learned this last summer). We have a fan in the hall pointing at his door, and once he's asleep and we're headed to bed we can open his door and let the fan blow in, but before that it lets in too much light. And it's only supposed to get hotter for the foreseeable future. Anyone have a recommendation of a really, really quiet fan?

I have been meaning to write about our Mothers Day afternoon, but holding off until I could get photos from my mom's camera, which still hasn't happened. Maybe I'll get some of them soon, but in case I don't, here's the elevator-speech version: We spent the afternoon on a gravel bar in the middle of nowhere, shooting guns and roasting hot dogs.

I was laughing earlier about the fact that Matt was clearly meant to marry an Alaskan, because I don't think that would fly as an appropriate Mothers Day celebration in many other places! We had a great time, though; we drove about an hour and a half north of town with my family, found a pull-off on a small river, hiked through the woods to a gravel bar around the bend (very slowly, in my case), and set up folding chairs and enjoyed the sunny afternoon. Matt and my dad sighted in some guns down at one end of the gravel bar, and the kids threw rocks and sticks into the river at the other end. The highlight of the afternoon was probably the annual boat race, in which Dad's entry was a still-smoking log from the fire and Matt's was basically half of a tree that'd been pounded smooth from being washed downriver; the dog grabbed Matt's "boat" right after they all threw them into the river, and he got her to chase him down the length of the gravel bar, still pulling the boat, and almost made it to the finish line before the boats that were traveling by water.

After letting my body get used to taking in eight to ten 16 oz glasses of water a day, it's incredible how badly I react when I don't make it up to my target eight glasses. Today was crazy, in town from 9 am to 4 pm then back in to pick Matt up at 5, and I'm only now finishing my eighth glass; two hours ago, at five glasses, I was having so much pain... and now it's almost completely gone. My ankles are still letting me know what they think of today, but they'll get over it. Actually, now that I think about it, they're probably mostly complaining about the heat; I think I did more sitting/laying down today than I would have if we'd stayed at home: chiropractor, reading stories at the library for an hour and a half, Mass, a picnic where I sat down the entire time (much of it with my feet up) and let Little Bear run around with my siblings and their friends... The few stores I had to stop at took up only a tiny percentage of the day.

With summer moving in, weekends, especially Saturdays, are getting so full of things we could be doing! Last week, we took Little Bear and my youngest sister to the Alaska Railroad's open house at the train depot: we explored the cars of a real train including the engine, the kids got balloons, and we watched their elaborate model train display of many of the towns and cities the railroad runs through. They were offering free 20-minute rides on the train as well, but the line was definitely too long! The kids had fun anyway.

This Saturday, there's more than we could possibly do even if Matt didn't still have seasonal allergies and I wasn't 35 weeks pregnant: Aviation Day at the airport, the (huge) post-wide garage sale, Kids' Day at the Dept of Fish and Game (trout fishing, archery, animal identification and lots more), the annual Really Free Market on campus (anyone can drop off anything they want to get rid of at 8 am, volunteers sort of organize stuff, and then they open the gates at 10 am and anyone can take anything they want), the Farmer's Market will be open... And I don't know that we'll make it to any of that, sadly, thanks to our mutual not-up-for-walking-around-ness. I think we're going to try to at least stop at a garage sale or two, the thrift store, and maybe a greenhouse for soil.

Have a good weekend! Do you have anything exciting planned? Don't forget to swing by This Ain't the Lyceum for more quick takes.

12 May 2015

Life, death and fertility

This article has been sitting in an open tab in my browser for a week or two now, because I keep coming back to it. I'm not sure if I really have the right words yet, but rather than let it sit there for another week, I'm just going to write about it anyway. So go read this first, and then if you want my thoughts, come on back:

Fertility, infertility, miscarriage, and the many ways random people seem to think it's okay to ask why you are or aren't pregnant right now. I agreed with her premise, for the most part; when, why, and how many children a couple have or may eventually have certainly isn't at the same level of inconsequential chatter as the weather or a new haircut. So no, it's not "small talk." I still can't quite wrap my mind around the idea that people honestly don't realize that when they ask questions about number of present, expected or future children, they're tangentially asking questions about your fertility and marital relationship—Could the connection be any more obvious?

BUT. The implication was made, and I've seen this in so many, many other articles about infertility and miscarriage, that these aren't things that can be talked about. That a woman or a couple struggling with infertility or the loss of a child or children has no real way of answering casual questions about when they plan to have a kid. It makes the conversation "mighty uncomfortable." I have to ask, is there something intrinsically wrong with "uncomfortable"?

Now I in no way mean to say that anyone should have to share any of that struggle with anyone they don't want to! Not at all. Your experience is yours, personal, unique, intimate, and if you don't want to talk about it, if sharing it makes you uncomfortable, then you don't have to. 

But there are some things people need to be aware of, even if hearing about them makes them uncomfortable. Miscarriage and infertility are on that list. And I do want to talk about it. To acknowledge my daughter in heaven. To share my experience of miscarriage, of the pain and loss, the uncertainty and confusion, the slow growth of faith and trust in God. The crippling fear that I wouldn't be able to conceive again, or that if I did I would lose another baby. The continuing worry that'll probably always be there in the back of my mind now, the it could happen again. I want to be able to, to be "allowed" to, remind people who believe that fertility is something easily controlled that, for many women, this is blatantly untrue.

hate that this is such a taboo subject, that young wives and mothers experiencing infertility, secondary infertility, miscarriage, are made to feel even more isolated than need be because no one will talk about it, no one is "allowed" to freely acknowledge it. One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage. Women should not be blindsided by miscarriage, never having even considered the fact that it could happen to them, never having known that anyone else they know has gone through it. It shouldn't be impossible for a woman who, shell-shocked after learning that her baby has died in utero, is online looking for now what? to find other women's stories, support, answers to the million fragments of questions she doesn't necessarily even know how to put together coherently.

According to the CDC, 12% of American women of childbearing age struggle with infertility. I couldn't find a solid statistic on men, but it's definitely not a women-only issue. How many of these people, do you think, were even aware that infertility was a possibility before they started having trouble conceiving? Our culture focuses so heavily on the idea that babies "happen" all the time with no effort even when you're trying to avoid them; even for many young Catholic couples going into marriage with a solid grasp of the Church's teaching on openness to life, there's often a belief that you, you the couple, have to make a choice between "having children immediately" and "using NFP to postpone children for ---- months/years." Matt and I certainly never heard anything in our marriage preparation about there being any possibility/likelihood of not being able to have children. And I'd never even heard of secondary infertility until after my miscarriage last year. 

We do a disservice to women and to couples when we all collectively refuse to acknowledge these struggles. To those currently struggling, by making them feel alone and denying those who need it emotional, spiritual,or material support, and to those who will face these struggles in the future by not acknowledging that they exist. Ignoring problems doesn't make them go away; it makes people less prepared to deal with them when they happen. Look at those numbers again. Miscarriage is common. Infertility is common. Even if you don't realize it, there is a very high chance that someone you know, someone you see every week at church, has endured one or both. It makes logical sense that the secular, Culture of Death society doesn't acknowledge these women's loss, but it's scandalous when otherwise pro-life Catholics do not recognize and validate their struggles.

Growing up in a large family, surrounded by other large families, it was pretty much impossible to not absorb something of a defensive attitude about large families and Humanae Vitae. The mentality of "Following God's will concerning fertility means having a large family. Period." became a subconscious self-defense mechanism as we got older, hearing the same disparaging comments over and over, receiving the same shocked and disapproving looks, as our mothers continued having kids. You certainly heard judgments made from time to time about "double income no kids" couples, about well-off families with just one or two children, how they were obviously using contraception, or misusing NFP selfishly, or even that they simply didn't realize the beauty and importance of trusting God. It never occurred to us that those families could be wanting children, or more children, and were unable to have them. And by the time we were old enough to be judging others on their family size, we were old enough that we should have been made aware of the reality and commonness of miscarriage and infertility, as well as the scope and breadth of reasons a couple not struggling with miscarriage or infertility might legitimately seek to avoid pregnancy.

To automatically assume the worst of a couple with few or no children, to choose to believe that they are disobeying Church teaching on fertility without giving consideration to the fact that they could be struggling with crosses we don't see, is absolutely unchristian. And to support the social nicety of not talking about "uncomfortable" things like miscarriage and infertility denies those who might otherwise have shared their struggles the opportunity to be welcomed and supported by the community instead of feeling judged or shunned. I know that most people honestly aren't aware of infertility and miscarriage, of their prevalence or of how to support those struggling with them. But that won't get better if no one will talk about it!

I cannot refer to this baby as my second. I can't. She isn't, she's my third, and I'm not able or willing to force myself to say otherwise. Recently Matt had to submit a brief bio to the parish office for something, and the question of how to describe our family came up. "Just say two kids," pretty much everyone I asked said. "You don't need to make it complicated, to confuse people." And I listened, and nodded, and said no. We have three kids, one is in heaven. How is that confusing? We eventually reached a compromise; the copy I sent to the parish read that Matt and his wife, Rosalie, have a 2-year-old son and are expecting a baby in June. No mention of Alex, but not denying her existence either.

I'm not happy that I did that. I may not have outright denied Alex, but I still caved to the social order that says that I can't mention her because hearing that I have a baby in heaven will make people uncomfortable. Is that how these people-who-would-be-uncomfortable want their families and friends to behave after they die, to never talk about them and pretend they never existed? Of course not.

We're all going to die, y'all. Every single one of us. Past generations had an awareness of death and eternity that we, in our culture of frantically avoiding even the appearance of aging, have lost. Many Catholics, too, have lost the sense of the beautiful mystery and connectedness that is the Communion of Saints. Hopefully, opening the door to a broader conversation about miscarriage as well as infertility will—in addition to reminding us all how important it is to refrain from judging others—help us to build up the recognition of how precious life is at every stage, and of the fact that those who die, no matter how long or short their life, are still a part of our lives. The way we relate to them changes, but we are still truly connected with them, and will be forever.

11 May 2015

Mondays frustrate me...

...But not for the reason you might think.

See, I love Mondays. The start of a brand-new week at home, a blank piece of paper in front of me to begin the weekly master to-do list. Coming off the weekend with Matt home to help with Little Bear, I feel like I have so much energy and I can't wait to do all the things and have a really super clean house and reorganize the closets and cook/bake 20 different things I've been wanting or have run out of and prep things for the baby. The baby, y'all. I'm having a baby in about a month, and that just kind of sunk in today. So much to do, and I'm so excited to do it.

So I fill up my entire sheet of paper with all of these things that I'm going to do, that I need to do, that I actually really want to do and am excited about... and then halfway through the first chore, the second if I'm really lucky, I'm forcibly reminded that I'm going on 35 weeks pregnant. And my body hates being pregnant. And I actually have no energy, and sitting/standing/walking hurts, and my ankles swell a little more every time I so much as look at the darn list.

Most of the sitting-down chores did get crossed off the list today. The ones requiring the computer had to wait until after bedtime, because Little Bear doesn't nap anymore and any time I try to pull my laptop out he's immediately drawn to it and wants to pick out the alphabet on my keyboard. I'm so happy that you know the alphabet, son, but can't you play legos right now? I should be grateful for bedtime and the 2+ hours I have to work after Little Bear goes down, though, because I realize that I'm going to lose that break very soon.

After going grocery shopping, putting groceries away, and then reorganizing two kitchen cupboards to find a home for my new pyrex food storage containers (which I am SO excited about, and so very very happy to be able to exile the plasticware from my kitchen!), pretty much everything else that required extended standing was out. Laundry got done, because I could sit down while I folded it; a menu got written; Little Bear's winter and too-small clothes got sorted into their proper boxes and his shorts came out, and all of his clothes migrated to the bottom two dresser drawers (so that he can put away his own laundry!) leaving the top two empty and waiting for baby clothes. Which are somewhere, I'm sure. Making yogurt, applesauce, banana bread, and the cranberry-white chocolate-oatmeal cookies that baby has me craving all got put off, along with a passel of other chores.

Because it's been a while and I'm thinking about it, here is our supper menu for the week:

Monday: mulberry-glazed chicken, buttermilk biscuits, green salad
Tuesday: sausage-potato egg bake with tomatoes, bell pepper and basil
Wednesday: shredded bbq caribou sandwiches, cider vinegar broccoli slaw
Thursday: supper with my family
Friday: pan bagno
Saturday: Tuscan pork chops, brown rice
Sunday: chicken pasta bake with ricotta, tomatoes and zucchini

So a few things are done. But it seems like, for every one thing I cross off the list, I think of two more to add! Realizing that oh, wow, we could potentially be bringing a baby home in less than a month! certainly isn't helping with the feeling of needing and wanting to do so many things all right now, and the frustration of not functioning at the level I want to be at. How am I supposed to get ready for the baby when I can hardly do a fraction of what I need to? I'm trying to prioritize, but it's hard to sort by both "what does my family most need of me?" and "what am I physically capable of at this moment?" at the same time.

Mondays start out feeling so full of promise, and then I'm so quickly reminded of how much I can't do. By the end of the week, at least I've accepted that my to-do list will never actually be finished.

07 May 2015


Laying down with my swollen feet up, trying not to think about the cupcakes I still have to frost for Matt's work barbecue tomorrow... Here's a handful of random things that have made me happy this week.

1. Blueberry Breakfast Grilled Cheese

What do you get if you combine stuffed French toast with a grilled cheese sandwich? Deliciousness. We made this amazing recipe for brunch after Mass on Sunday, and mmmmmmmm... Definitely saving this one! I used Alaskan blueberries, and we agreed that it really needed their sharp tang to counter the sweetness of the cream cheese. If you're using the sweeter domesticated blueberries, maybe consider using unsweetened cream cheese or even ricotta instead?

Tegu blocks in general are fun: wooden blocks with magnets inside them, so kids can build wildly improbable structures without them necessarily falling down... while unwittingly learning about balance, magnetism and polarity, and other good sciency stuff. Matt loves building with them with Little Bear. But I've just discovered something that makes them even better: they sell extra wheels! You don't have to buy a car set; you can just get wheels in sets of four, so that you can build your own cars however you want. Little Bear's basic set came with four wheels, and he would be so excited to have four more so that he and Daddy can both build cars and race them. Making a note for his birthday!

Clearly, I have birthdays on my mind. That makes sense, since Sunday was my birthday. I made my cake following this recipe, but replacing the milk with buttermilk; we used strawberry-rhubarb jam as the filling between the two layers, and frosted it with a chocolate buttercream. All of the flavors went well together, but I thought the buttercream was a little too rich and dense for the spongy cake and fruit; next time, I'll make sure I have whipping cream in the house so I can have a light, fluffy whipped frosting.

Little Bear decorated my cake, using the skills he clearly learned from my youngest siblings. No birthday cake at my parents' house is complete without plastic figures of some kind on top!

Yes, a herd of wooly mammoths.

I used this same recipe for the cupcakes today, because I still had some buttermilk in the fridge; they're remarkably flat, no crown to them at all, but they're still delicious and as my sister commented, "That's what frosting is for!" Eventually I'll pry myself off the couch and go top them with the chocolate-peanut butter frosting I made earlier this afternoon (I still have no whipping cream, and I think the rich frosting won't be as overpowering in a small amount on top of a cupcake.) To go with the chocolate-peanut butter theme, I also hid a mini Reese's peanut butter cup in the middle of each cupcake.

These are too much fun. This might just be crazy pregnancy hormones, but ever since stumbling across these rings a week or two ago within 12 hours of having to take off my engagement and wedding rings because otherwise they were going to be stuck there until a month or two postpartum, a) my hand has felt uncomfortably naked, and b) nothing has been able to convince me that these rings aren't the solution. Matt's probably right that it's a silly idea, but I couldn't quite make myself close the tab... And then they went on sale for May 4, because "May the 4th" be with you... Terrible, but perfect. Matt let me be silly, and an envelope from UPS arrived this evening, and I am so ridiculously happy with this:

5. Whiskey Barrels

Empty, halved, plastic pseudo-whiskey barrels. Sorry; I know that's much less exciting. We brought home two this week, and are hoping to pick up herb and vegetable starts this weekend at a greenhouse or the farmers market. I am so happy that we have a south-facing deck this year and will be able to pick fresh herbs, lettuce, etc! We won't be planting them for another week or two yet—everyone here knows that if you plant outside before Memorial Day weekend and lose all your plants to a frost, you have no one to blame but yourself—but I can start putting the tray of 6-packs outside every morning and bringing them in at night to help the plants adjust before we actually plant them.

6. Math with Puppies

Really truly honestly, Little Bear did this without help this morning. Clearly, the puppies were a valid addition to the "math manipulatives" box!

7. Sleep

Which isn't happening until I go frost those cupcakes, is it? How did it get so late? Oh, right; by the time I finished number five, I'd realized that it's practically Friday and I might as well turn this into my 7QT and get it posted early for a change. And then I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to think of a last topic, and I think I'm just going to give up and go frost cupcakes so I can go to bed. As always, you can find many more posts linked up over at This Ain't The Lyceum!

05 May 2015

Curriculum fair recap

The short version: the curriculum fair was fun and there are lots of possible curricula and supplemental materials that I'm excited about. If curricula just isn't that interesting to you, I won't be offended if you skip today's ramblings!

Yesterday was curriculum fair day! Matt needed the car so that he could go in and take his final after work—which he passed with a much higher score than he expected!—so I decided to keep our lives sane and skip the preschool/kindergarten presentation I'd planned to attend at the curriculum fair yesterday morning. We just didn't need the craziness of trying to coordinate trading out the car midday or me driving him to his final and then having to burn an uncertain amount of time downtown with a hungry kid while Matt took the test.

It was for the best. Little Bear wound up not falling asleep until 11 Monday night, and woke up just in time to run out and give Matt a hug before he left for work. We had a peaceful morning and evening at home, and in the middle of the day my mom and the kids picked us up to go to the curriculum fair with them. Going with two aunts and an uncle meant that Little Bear had plenty of people to run around and play with him while Mom and I actually looked at books and materials and talked with vendors. And sat down, in my case. Lots of sitting down. I was thankful for all of the chairs!

Many vendors had little free stuff to draw kids to their tables; you know, the kind of stuff that kids are sure is the neatest thing ever for two days and then it clutters up your house until you finally toss it. Little Bear brought home a squishy ball/globe (c/o BYU independent study), a balsa wood glider (c/o Oak Meadow), a small polar bear (c/o University of Alaska distance ed), and three brightly colored erasers shaped and decorated like dice (c/o Interior Distance Education of Alaska [IDEA], the organization that hosts the fair). And a set of little plastic dogs that he found at the booth of a local homeschool supply store and managed to convince Grandma that he needed. For school, of course! (Pretty much anything can be a "math manipulative" at the preschool level, right? He did come right home and start counting them into and out of his dump truck...)

IDEA's Parent Advisory Council had a table set up for kids, too; volunteers supervised kids while they colored or did simple projects so their parents could look at materials for next year. I love the family-friendly atmosphere of the fair—there's definitely no expectation that moms leave their kids at home! I saw lots of strollers, and even more babies in slings or carriers. Middle school-aged boys were flying their gliders around along a wall without any vendors or much foot traffic. Several of my brother's friends joined him in kicking the little ball back and forth with Little Bear, and they all looked like they were honestly enjoying themselves.

I picked up information from a couple of vendors, mostly stuff that Little Bear won't be old enough for for a couple of years but I wanted to talk about with Matt: several early elementary science programs full of hands-on experiments that the two of them might enjoy, a manipulative-heavy math curriculum that my mom has used with good results for the first few years with my youngest siblings, a collectible trading card game that teaches world and American history called Historical Conquest. Would kids really willingly play something like that? That was among my first thoughts too, but the game's creator had a steady stream of elementary and middle school boys at his booth eagerly playing or waiting their turn to play in a tournament with the sample decks he'd brought. The illustrations are pretty well done, the kids all seemed to be having fun, and you actually have to learn about people, places and events from throughout history to play successfully. Once Little Bear is old enough (so not until he's reading fluently), we're definitely picking up a starter set for him. 

Also for the "look what's available as Little Bear gets older!" file, I brought Matt a flyer from the Mad Scientist Workshop, where local science teachers offer workshops and classes in everything from K-2 level basics of biology to high school computer science, robotics, or metallurgy and knife making. Knife making. 

The Etiquette Factory's materials looked interesting, but unfortunately the vendor was in another room giving a presentation while we were walking around (on "Teaching our boys to be gentlemen," which makes it sound like a program I want to learn more about!) I didn't get a chance to flip through their beginner-level book, and I'm not seriously considering picking it up for another year or two, but I do really like their placemats:

How great are those for teaching kids to set the table properly? There's way more silverware laid out there than Little Bear will probably ever see at one place setting, but it would sure be helpful to be able to point out to him "See, your cup goes waaaaay up there, far away from the edge of the table." I think my mom has a couple that she picked up several years ago and her kids don't use, so we might be able to use one of hers.

I already have two of Ring of Fire Science's PreK-2 level activity books (earthquakes and earth science) that I'm planning to use this coming year (or more accurately, that I'm planning to hand to Matt and say, "Have fun!"), but I was excited to see that they have quite a few other books for that age range now, including the science of flight, volcanoes, and dinosaurs. Good to know that they're available for the following couple of years!

So ultimately, I had fun looking at a lot of things and found a bunch of good ideas for the future, but nothing we needed for this year. The two books from Ring of Fire that I already have should be plenty of science for a 3 year old, and for where he is now I'm happier with the math and literacy materials I've found from Catholic suppliers (Catholic Heritage Curricula and Seton Press). Maybe we can pick up a simple field guide or two on Alaskan birds and plants, and then join him in being excited about learning the names of things we see while we're out this summer, since he's been starting to ask. He likes "school," I like that he likes learning; I'm going to let his interest level dictate how much actual school we do, and have a laid-back, fun school year so that he continues enjoying it.

01 May 2015

Seven Quick Takes

Sitting at the repair shop, waiting for our snow tires to be swapped out for our all-seasons, super grateful that I dropped Little Bear off with my mom now that I know that making an appointment doesn't mean they won't make you wait two hours... Time to write 7QT, right?

I hated spending the money on snow tires back in October; we have four-wheel-drive, and we'd made it through the last two winters fine. And now that it's spring and I'm sitting here wasting two hours getting the snow tires taken off, I'm kind of inclined to be grumpy about having them all over again. But really, they did make a difference this year... In 4WD with the all-seasons, we did slide occasionally; we stayed home the one ice-storm day we had this winter, but apart from that we really didn't slide this winter, despite living farther out of town on less-maintained roads. So having the snow tires was worth the extra time and expense. And I'm trying to look at getting them switched out right now as a "break" instead of "sitting here wasting time."

Kids have a way of invalidating your opinions. Before Little Bear was born, I had the apartment perfectly silent all day long and I loved it, and thought that I could teach any kids to love silence too. Ha. Then there was my "definitely never co-sleeping" stance that ended abruptly within 12 hours of bringing Little Bear home from the hospital. I'm sure there have been plenty more, but the big one right now is preschool. Just a year ago, I would have been perfectly happy to explain to anyone who cared to listen why I didn't believe in preschool. Especially for 3-year-olds. But now here's Little Bear, who won't even be 3 until July, who several times a day brings me hand-me-down half-finished kindergarten workbooks from his aunts and uncles (which I brought home for him to use as coloring books) and begs, "School? We can do school now? Do more school please?" Nothing makes the boy happier than sitting down and having me watch him trace letters or numbers, color and count shapes, etc. I don't want to formally "do school" with him this young, I still don't believe that kids should be expected to start academic work so early, but he somehow already knows his letters, numbers, colors, shapes... Since the impetus is coming from him rather than from me or from some arbitrary "kids should learn x,y,z before kindergarten," I want to encourage him to have fun with it. To make "school" be a game we play together, so that he keeps enjoying it, and not putting any pressure to learn particular things on either of us. I'm sure I'll have a lot more reevaluating to do this time next year, as well.

After saying that, it probably sounds incredibly hypocritical that I'm excited about the local homeschooling association's curriculum fair this coming Monday/Tuesday and planning to attend a talk on homeschooling preschoolers/kindergarteners, doesn't it? I'm hoping the presenter has ideas for fun things to do with littles that happen to have something sciency about them, because I know that Little Bear and Matt would enjoy doing stuff together, and I want to be able to give Matt ideas of things that will get both of them outside this summer.

Since some time last week, I'd been thinking about what I wanted to write for Alex's first birthday, which was this past Sunday. Then the day itself arrived, complete with a second-in-five-days trip to the hospital for preterm labor patterns, and I was a bit too busy to write. Not too preoccupied; it was impossible not to think about Alex as I lay in a hospital bed on her birthday, fetal monitors strapped to me, trying to believe that God wouldn't take two children from me on the same day one year apart. For all that she was on my mind, though, thinking about Alex on her birthday wasn't as hard as I'd thought it might be. It's not as though I haven't thought about and talked to her frequently throughout the past year; often when Little Bear won't sleep or Kit is worrying me, I find myself asking Alex to pray for her siblings. The communion of saints is a beautiful article of our faith, one I've certainly learned to love and rely on more in the past year. Possibly the most valuable thing I've learned this year is trust in the communion of saints, gaining a deeper, more concrete belief that the saints in heaven do hear and care about and intercede for those of us still on earth. 

The hospital visit did turn out fine; after doing what was definitely the most comprehensive battery of tests I've ever had at once, the nurses reassured me that I had a simple infection which was triggering the contractions and a three-day course of antibiotics would clear it up. They were right, thankfully; contractions have stopped and Kit is still safely where she belongs, regularly digging her toes into my ribs. At my appointment yesterday my midwife was very pleased with both my and Kit's conditions. We're measuring right on track—I'm 33 weeks today—and Kit seems happily settled in head-down. My midwife laughed when I asked where her feet were (thanks to the rib-kicking) and said yes, I was right about her position, showing me how to tell where Kit's head and back are by feel. 

Perks of being pregnant: the repair shop assigned two mechanics to work on our tires, so it was finished in just over an hour! They discovered a few more problems (of course; when do you ever take a vehicle in for one thing and not be told you need to fix two other things as well?)... One we'll have to call around and get quotes on fixing, because it's a legitimate your-axle-might-break-while-you're-driving issue. (But not immanently dangerous; we have a little while to make the repair.) The other was that the tire pressure sensor in one wheel is broken, so they took it out. The silly things don't really work in Alaskan winters anyway, constantly telling you you have low tire pressure from the first time it hits -20, so we may as well just keep track of our tire pressure ourselves like every other vehicle owner did for generations before every part of the car had a tiny computer in it.

Happy May Day! Also, happy feast of St. Joseph the Worker. May 1 is quite the day, both celebrating St Joseph and kicking off Mary's month. We (totally by accident--I wasn't looking at feast days when I made the menu this week) had Italian tonight for St. Joseph, and Matt (again, totally by accident I'm sure) wore a bright red shirt, both of which are linked in some traditions to St. Joseph... I threw together a spinach lasagna between getting the tires finished and picking Matt up from work. And this afternoon while he was at Grandma's house, Little Bear helped to make a crown of flowers for Mary, so we were able to do a May crowning tonight! The whole month is dedicated to Mary, so if you're interested, it's definitely not too late to plan one with your family; this link has some good information about why we crown Mary, historical crownings, flowers and May crownings and other ways to remember Mary throughout the month of May.

Have a good weekend, and don't forget to stop over at This Ain't The Lyceum for more quick takes!