13 December 2016

St Lucy Buns {dairy-free}

A year ago, I was still coming to grips with Kit being allergic to casein. Our traditional Advent and Christmas baking is chock full of butter, milk, cream cheese, sour cream... and because I was feeling overwhelmed, and most of the few Christmas treats that I did try to adapt to be dairy-free turned out poorly, I more or less stopped trying.

Well, we're still dairy-free around here, but with a year's experience in baking without butter et al, I am ready to tackle all the Christmas things! Well, most of them. The ones that are supposed to taste like butter can wait another year.

I was sad to miss out on St Lucy Buns last year, but with milk, butter, AND sour cream, there was no way I was going to attempt to muddle through them. I was still a little bit nervous last night, waiting and hoping they'd turn out as my dough oh-so-slowly rose, but they are perfect. Light, tender, melt-in-your-mouth rich... Mmmm. :-) So glad to be able to celebrate St Lucy's feast day with these treats from my Nordic roots!

St Lucy Buns/Lussekatter {dairy-free}

3/4 cup milk of choice (I used almondmilk)
pinch of saffron threads
1 teaspoon + 1/4 cup white sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons nondairy "butter" (I used Earth Balance soy-free)
1/4 cup nondairy plain yogurt (I used coconutmilk yogurt)
2 large eggs + 1 for egg wash

Combine milk, saffron, and 1 teaspoon sugar. Heat to 115 degrees F, and stir to dissolve sugar. Stir in yeast and set in a warm place until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the remaining sugar, 3 1/2 cups flour, and salt. Make a well in the middle and add the milk mixture, 2 eggs, diced "butter", and yogurt. Combine thoroughly. Knead dough, adding flour a tablespoon at a time as needed until dough is still tacky but doesn't stick all over your hands when you touch it. Shape into a ball and set in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap, to rise.

When dough has doubled, divide into 12 equal balls. Roll into snakes and shape into tight Ss. Lay out on a parchment-lined sheet pan and cover with plastic wrap to rise until doubled, about half an hour. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Beat an egg and brush over the Ss. Stick raisins into S curls. Bake 9 to 10 minutes, turning pan 180 degrees after 4 minutes. Remove from parchment to a wire rack to cool. Enjoy!

If you aren't dairy-free, the recipe works equally well with cow's milk, butter, and plain yogurt or sour cream.
Coconut oil works in place of the fake butter, but only use 3.5 tablespoons instead of 4.

06 December 2016

Happy feast of St Nicholas!

Today we were hit with my first taste of the "Christmas crazies," with the kids excited far beyond my expectations over the appearance of two playmobil guys and a handful of chocolate gold coins in their shoes. Kit couldn't even eat the chocolate (I couldn't find any that were dairy-free), and she was still just as giddy as her big brother!

We had a fun day, though, and I'm pretty confident (hopeful?) that everyone will be a little calmer tomorrow. We read Mary's Little Donkey this morning, our first Christmas-related book of the year; I hadn't planned on pulling any Christmas books out until Gaudete Sunday, but this one is more about the friendship between Mary and the animals, and then the journey to Bethlehem, rather than focusing most of the storytelling on Christmas Day itself, so it seemed appropriate for Advent. I wish we had a good picture book about St. Nicholas, though; we don't have any stories about him at all, so I told the kids his legend in the car on the way home from the grocery store this morning, but if anyone has any suggestions I'd love to find something to read to them next year!

Who knew that Playmobil made a St Nicholas figure? I found a two-pack at our local toy store of St Nicholas and an angel, which the kids had so. much. fun. playing with today. Kit kept taking "Nichonah"s miter off and bringing it to me to "fix? fix?" Late yesterday evening I got sucked into the time-wasting vortex of exploring Playmobil offerings on Amazon, curious as to whether they had other religious-themed models, and discovered that they actually made a set of St Martin and a beggar, with his horse and his sword and the cloak to cut in half and everything! But apparently it was a very limited release in Germany in 2006, and you can't find any on the internet anywhere anymore. Oh well. The kids are more than happy with what they have!

Our vinyl Shining Light St Nicholas doll, a gift several years ago from my mother-in-law's friend, also made his annual appearance today: I didn't have anything for the adult shoes, but Little Bear was sure that we needed to set our shoes out last night too, so he showed up in Matt's shoe and the informational card about him was in mine this morning. Kit was very happy that there were two "Nichonah"s, dancing them around together, and even carried the Shining Light version with her for her nap. Both St Nicholas's and the angel will hang around, probably popping in and out of nativity scenes, through Epiphany.

I'm not terribly "arts-n-crafts-y," but my sister sent me instructions for candy cane crosiers about a month ago, and I'd been looking forward to trying them for the feast of St Nicholas ever since. After Kit woke up from her nap, she and Little Bear helped me remember how hard it is to unwrap candy canes without breaking them... We finally had enough come out in one piece, though, and they turned out so well! The soft-not-quite-melted candy was hot, though--shocking, I know--so Little Bear couldn't actually help me shape the crosiers, and I was blowing on my fingertips for a while after doing each one. Maybe by next year I'll think of a way that he can help at least a little bit.

How did you celebrate St Nicholas' day?

26 November 2016

A list of lists

After talking about my tendency to organize—possibly over-organize—earlier this week, I have a list for you! A list of lists, actually. It's just about Advent in most of the world by now, though we have several hours left here; whether you're hurrying to finish up Christmas shopping before settling into Advent or just beginning to think about gifts, here are a bunch of ideas compiled by a few of my favorite bloggers. Some even have coupon codes available, so check them out!

Round Up of Homemade Holiday Gifts from Whole Parenting Family

Kathryn's Favorite Things: A Religious Shopping Guide from Team Whitaker

Catholics on Etsy! and Catholics on Etsy, Part 2! from Simcha Fisher

The 2016 Carrots Christmas Gift Guide from Carrots for Michaelmas

And apparently The Catholic Wife will have a two-part Catholic gift guide coming up here as well, so check her page starting December 1 for that!

Wishing you a wonderful (and organized!) start to your Advent.

19 November 2016


The new liturgical year begins next Sunday, the new calendar year a month later; especially with everything that's going on over the next month-plus, it's a logical time to be thinking about schedules, planners, and the like. Kelly Mantoan of This Ain't The Lyceum had a great post this past week on finding the planner that's right for you individually, and it set me thinking about my own organization system. I'm very much a "list person," to the point that it's pretty much guaranteed that before the middle of this week, I'll have written out a list of the lists that I need to make to organize these busy weeks leading up to Christmas.

So my approach definitely won't be for everyone! It's working well for me at this point, though, so I wanted to share in case it might help someone else.

First, there's the planner. I use the Catholic Daily Planner to keep track of feast days, birthdays and anniversaries, appointments, and anything scheduled to happen at a set time. Every weekend, I go through and plan the supper menu for the coming week, jotting that down in the margins of each day and making notes where needed of things that have to start thawing a day early, be pre-cooked, etc.

Then there's the lesson plan book. Preschool doesn't require all that much lesson-planning, but since we are using individual books and not an all-in-one curriculum, I do go through each weekend and write out what we'll be doing each day in handwriting, religion, math and reading, plus any extras (science, geography, history, art...) At this stage, I'm not writing in times for each subject, lunch only happening after X is done, etc, because he's just 4; it's great that he wants to do school and he's learning so much, but I still firmly believe that at this age, laying a foundation of enjoying school is more important than getting through as much material as possible. We do get through everything written down almost every day, but if he's busy helping me with laundry or baking and we don't get around to finishing, I don't mind moving lessons around to other days and/or condensing them, especially since I know he's capable of doing more than I assign per day.

And the most-used organizer of my week: the list book! It's just a thick 8"x10" college-ruled notebook, big enough to hold a lot of words per page, but not too big to put in my purse. Daily and running to-do lists, lists of errands, the grocery list, the aforementioned list of lists... I'd be lost without it, that's for sure.


What do you use to keep yourself organized? 

31 October 2016

Celebrating Hallowtide

Happy Hallowe'en, y'all! Since this week is full up with holidays and holy days, Little Bear and I are taking a break from our regular religion curriculum to talk about Hallowtide, Halloween, saints, purgatory, et al. And I wanted to hear what kind of traditions or plans you have, too; I'm kind of throwing things together haphazardly here, since this cold has made it hard for me to get ahead on planning things out, so more ideas would be welcome!

Today we looked at the calendar to see that All Saints, or All Hallows', is tomorrow, and then talked about how when we start celebrating something the evening beforehand we call it the "eve." So one thing we can remember on this eve of All Saints is that God has conquered death, and that as we celebrate the saints tomorrow and pray for the souls in purgatory the next day, we are glad and grateful that Jesus made it so that we can one day be with Him in heaven. So some people might have scary decorations or costumes, but they remind us that with God, there's nothing we have to be afraid of.

But mostly, Halloween is an American holiday about having fun, carving pumpkins, and going trick-or-treating, and we talked about that too. Matt and Little Bear had fun carving a pumpkin yesterday, and tonight for supper we had stuffed "jack-o-peppers," because clearly keeping up with life was too easy and I needed an extra challenge today? I don't know. Little Bear was excited about them, though, and they turned out better than I expected.

I bundled Little Bear into his superhero costume (over top of his coat, because that's how costumes work here) and we went trick-or-treating at four houses in our neighborhood before the car decided that it didn't like the key and wouldn't let me turn it on, and Matt had to come over with the spare key and save us. So then we went home.

Turns out that if the steering wheel is turned too sharply when you take the key out, it can "lock" and not let you turn the car back on. At least there's nothing wrong with our car!

All Saints Day is a holy day of obligation; we're still trying to figure out how we are going to make it to Mass, because all of the parishes in town have their Masses at the same times which is horribly inconvenient if those few times don't work for you. I'm sure we'll work something out, though. Little Bear and Kit are both excited about wearing Saint costumes tomorrow; okay, Kit is just excited about the pretty red princess-y dress (Bl Gisella, first queen of Hungary), but Little Bear was very sure he wanted to be St Juan Diego again this year. We didn't make it to the cathedral's All Saints party yesterday since the kids were sick, but Little Bear figured we could just have our own party on All Saints Day instead. So I guess I'm looking up a few simple games tonight!

I have a nice dinner planned for the feast day—ham, butternut squash, and roasted Brussels sprouts with a honey-balsamic glaze—and we'll be celebrating our own little saint in a special way throughout the day.

For All Souls' Day, Masses are even harder to find than on All Saints, but we'll try to at least visit a cemetery and say a rosary as a family. From inside the car, because it'll be in the 20s out and we can be pious and practical at the same time, especially when the kids are sick. The religion lesson for the day will involve talking about purgatory and November being the month specially set aside for praying for the dead; I'm planning to have Little Bear help me write the names of our relatives who have died on slips of paper to put in our prayer corner, so that we can pray for them all month. And the kids will help me bake doughnuts, because soul cakes

Thursday, November 3, is the feast day of St Hubert; as the patron saint of hunters, St Hubert is a pretty big deal around here! We'll read the story of St Hubert and the white stag, and talk about how we pray for Saint Hubert's intercession when Dad is out hunting, and what "intercession" means. If the kids are healthy enough by then, we'll go for a quick tromp in the woods, looking for birds and animals. And there might be one last package of moose steak hanging out in the freezer from last season; I think that'd make a fitting supper.

Friday... We try to go to Mass on First Fridays, but that'll depend on how the kids are doing. Friday Mass is right in the middle of Kit's nap time, and I am not going to mess with nap time unless she's much better than she is right now. I think we will wrap up the week's lessons by learning and discussing the Requiem aeternum, Eternal rest grant into them, O Lord... and probably reiterate Wednesday's discussion of praying for the dead in November. Little Bear seems to have gotten my love for the liturgical year—he appreciates explanations of "we're doing X today because today is Y/a part of Y season"—so I think he will respond well to the idea of there being a particular thing we do because it's November.

So that's my master plan! And now that it's all written out, I'm probably going to get hit with the full brunt of the kids' cold and our actual week won't be nearly as organized, because that's how life works. :-) We'll see how it goes.

What are your traditions for Hallowtide? Is anyone else celebrating St Hubert in a special way on Thursday? I'd love to hear your plans.

29 October 2016

A quiet moment

Kit and I are sitting still in a quiet house right now, a rarity these days. The poor munchkin has a head cold, and is cuddled up snoring in my lap while Matt and Little Bear are out running errands. My to-do list is a mile long, as ever, but rather than lay Kit down and risk waking her, I'm going to stay right here and write.

How long has it been since I've talked about the kids? Longer than I expected, that's for sure. I feel like I never have time to write a long, well-thought-out post, so I just haven't been writing at all. Well, let's do a little catching up.

Kit, almost one and a half, is normally the happiest little girl. She's been clingy and whimpery for the last week or so with this cold, but when she's well-rested, her smile comes out again. She talks constantly, and is starting to put two words together more often: "milk please," "mama down" (when she wants me to be done at the table), "mama up" (when she wants to be picked up), etc. I know most of her words are unintelligible to most people, but because we're around her and talking with her all the time, we recognize more than 50 words that she uses regularly. Sometimes it does take context to figure out what she's saying though, and occasionally I can't figure it out at all, which frustrates her.

She's walking and running on her own, usually squirms to get down and walk instead of being carried, and dances/bounces whenever she hears music. Kit loves helping: she hands me silverware from the dishwasher one piece at a time, prompting me with a "tank'oo" to thank her for every single piece, and gets mad if her brother starts putting away handfuls of it by himself without waiting for her. When the buzzer sounds on the washing machine or dryer, both kids drop whatever they are doing and go running for the laundry room—I haven't had to load laundry in or out of either machine  here!

And after prayers every evening, she runs up to Matt to say "night-night," give him a hug, and brush a hand across his forehead with a "beh-oo!" (Bless you). So cute!

Little Bear, 4 and change, is generally very helpful too. He's still getting over the same cold that Kit has, so it's been a long week in the Shifflerhaus. But he does usually try to be good. He loves to help in the kitchen, and lately has been "cooking" toy food for me and Kit. The other afternoon, I had to laugh as he was talking his way through making a salad "with an orange lemon vinaigrette, and some fresh herbs, and five tablespoons of white vinegar. And I'll just lay this lemon slice on the side for a garnish, okay Mom?"

He's still excited about doing school every morning. We're doing four main subjects this year—handwriting, religion, math, and reading—along with a monthly subscription to a kids' cooking class that ties in elements of science, history, geography, and culture. He has picked up everything really well so far; he's reading stories with short-vowel words with little to no help from me, and loves using his abacus and playing math games. (We're using Catholic Heritage Curricula materials for handwriting, religion, and reading, and Right Start Math for math.)

We only have an inch or so of snow on the ground so far, but winter is definitely here; it's 32 degrees F outside right now, which is the warmest it's been in a while! Matt fired up the wood stove for the first time earlier this week, and we were all happy to find things to do in the living room so that we could enjoy the warmth. Little Bear has been itching to go play in what little snow we have, but I've been trying to keep him in until his cough lets up... Hopefully both kids are feeling better soon, and we can spend more time playing outside. For now we're having fun watching birds and animals out in the snow instead: in the last few days, we've seen a woodpecker, several squirrels, a couple of dark-eyed juncos and black-capped chickadees, and two female pine grosbeaks.

21 September 2016

Healthy Living

Harvest season and preparing for winter has me so swamped, y'all, I haven't had any time to sit down and write. Fall is so short here, and this year for the first time we have all of the getting-a-house-ready-for-winter work to get done on top of the storing-up-food-for-the-winter work. It's exciting! And crazy busy. I almost, not quite, but almost wish that the snow would just fall already and we could say "we got done everything we could" and I could just focus on all of the work inside instead of splitting my time and feeling like I'm not making enough progress inside or out.

So why are you sitting down to say that you don't have time to say anything? Fair question. I just had to pop in and remind anyone who might be interested and hasn't heard yet that this year's Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle went on sale today! I love these bundles---they are overflowing with resources on everything from cooking healthfully to taking care of kids to losing weight to managing hormones naturally... ebooks and online courses and even samples of products that are geared toward a healthy lifestyle. You can find the whole list here.

The first couple of times that I saw these bundles talked about, I waited until toward the end of the sale to pick them up; it took a while for me to convince myself that I would actually use enough of the included items to make it worth the price. Now, I know that I've definitely gotten so much more than my money's worth in the past few bundles, so I jumped on this one right away. And as a bonus for going for it right away, they are giving the .mobi (kindle) and .epub (most other ereader) files of all of the books, usually a $10 upgrade, to everyone who buys the standard package of .pdf files up until the end of the day tomorrow (Thursday) for free. I'm assuming that's midnight Eastern time, but my 40 Kbps connection won't load their webpage for me to confirm that right now... so if you know that you want the full bundle with the ebook formats, don't wait until the last minute!

A couple of things that I'm particularly looking forward to in this year's bundle:

- Complete Wild Edibles Package, a movie and ten ebooks on foraging by Sergei Boutenko
- Planning & Designing the Family Food Garden, by Isis Loran
- Real Food on a Real Budget: How to Eat Healthy for Less, by Stephanie Langford
- Living Healthy with Chocolate, by Adriana Harlan
- and all five resources on hormones and balancing them---there are three video courses, an audio course, and a book!

The Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle is only available until September 26, 2016---and the ebook files are only free until Thursday night!---so if this sounds like something you are interested in, don't miss out!

Did you already pick up a copy, or are you planning to? I'd love to hear which resources you are excited about!

19 August 2016

Seven Quick Takes

Still unpacking, organizing, settling into the new house and trying to create new rhythms to fit the new space... and a little bit of extra excitement, just so we don't have to worry about getting bored, right?

The kids and I had two moose in the yard the other day! There was a big cow and a two-year-old bull, and we ran from window to window watching them both meander all around the yard and through our woods. Kit got so excited, shouting "Dog! Dog!" Pretty much all animals are "dogs" right now, except for sheep/goats. Little Bear and I have talked a few times since then about always checking for moose before we go outside; it's fun to see them from a safe distance, but you definitely never want to get close!

Kit and Little Bear both had fun seeing the animals at the fair; Kit in particular amused a good number of folks in the barn by carrying on an excited (loud) conversation with some of the sheep: "Baaa." "Baa!" "Baaaa." "Baa! Baa!" etc., for the better part of five minutes. She's also adamant that every time we visit my parents, she gets to pet their dog; "Dog! Wuh[f]!", she insists. "Wuh, wuh! Dog!" Little Bear's takeaway from the fair was that he wants to raise rabbits. I explained that if that ever happened, they'd be meat rabbits, which of course I don't actually expect that he completely understood... Though we have been consistent in talking about how moose meat comes from moose, grouse meat comes from grouse, etc, so maybe he understood better than I think he did.

Our car is back in the shop for the second time in two weeks. First it was overheating every two miles, and needed a new water pump. This time, the transmission died and is getting rebuilt; we were fortunate to find a guy in the next town who would do it for less than the jeep is worth, so that's something. I don't know how long jeeps are expected to last, as a rule, but we're only at about 125k miles... We are going to have to decide, once we get it back in a couple of weeks, whether there are enough new parts in it now that we should hang onto it in the hopes that it will not need work for a while, or if we should sell it while we still can and get at least a little out of it to put toward our next vehicle.

The timing, if it had to happen, worked out about as well as it could have: the transmission went out on the afternoon that my sister was getting ready to head back to college, so the old suburban she'd been driving all summer was still on insurance but she didn't need it anymore. My parents let us borrow the 'burb so we didn't have to rent a car; the transmission is going to take two and a half weeks! We really appreciate being able to use the suburban. It was a little odd at first, driving my own kids around in the vehicle I grew up riding in, but it also feels comfortable, familiar—I know the 'burb, know how it handles, and it feels right to have little kids chattering in it again.


We accidentally reinforced Little Bear's desire for rabbits last weekend, when the kids and I went out to "pick up your share at the farm"-day for our CSA. After getting the rest of our vegetables from the stand, we got to go into the field and pick our own snap peas, which was fun for the kids. I gained empathy for my mother's slightly-exasperated "lift up the vines and look under them" every summer; my siblings and I would always insist that we did that already, and then she'd have to come along behind us and pick half again as many as we'd gotten. "There are more peapods right there," I kept telling Little Bear, and each time he was shocked; clearly I had just made them appear out of nowhere because there hadn't been any pods left when he checked, no sir. But it was fun. And after we were done picking, we stopped to see their sheep and goats (for Kit), and on the way back to the car, discovered the farm's rabbit enclosure, so I let both kids sit and watch the rabbits for a few minutes. Little Bear learned somewhere that rabbits live in hutches, and he spent half the ride home talking about building a hutch so the rabbits could come live at our house. I don't expect we'll be ready for any animals for several years, but anything's possible; who knows if we'll wind up with meat rabbits some day.

This weekend has been full; yesterday morning the kids and I ran errands in town and attended part of the morning session of our Catholic radio station's anniversary celebration and fundraiser. I missed a bunch of the last talk, running around with a noisy Kit out in the foyer, but everyone said that it was wonderful and very funny. On the way home we picked up my meager winnings from the fair—a blue ribbon for my dairy-free version of my mother-in-law's pan cookies, and a red for my cranberry banana bread—and promptly spent the money a mile down the road at the farmers market. On salad turnips! I was so excited to see salad turnips, and very proud that Little Bear was excited about them too. Also exciting: the local orchard with special apple-crabapple grafts had a table, and we were able to bring home several bags of the only apples that Matt can eat raw!

A scant two hours after getting home, we were heading back down the hill with freshly-frosted mini cupcakes for the dessert auction at the radio station's celebration. There was a slow-cooker cook-off, and I enjoyed a spicy posole. I trust that Little Bear ate a real supper as well; he was sitting with my youngest brother and his friends, and they all do a good job of looking out for him (and are good sports about letting him run after them). After dinner there was another talk, this one on marriage (the earlier one I'd been in and out of was on parenting). We tried to listen, but Kit hadn't napped much and it was after bedtime, so we had to leave part way in.

Matt wasn't able to come with us either time, unfortunately; his day was dedicated to two huge chores, cleaning/organizing the garage so that we can pull the car in, and moving our woodpile over from the old apartment. The garage looks great now! And two of his coworkers spent the afternoon out in the cold rain helping him haul and stack wood, so he wound up grilling for them and having a pleasant evening in. Hopefully we'll all be able to go to the celebration together next year.

28 July 2016

Quick Takes

Whoops! Let's slip in at least one post for July... Seven Quick Takes it is. Quick ones, at that.

This has been a beautiful summer! Lots of sun, lots of rain to cool things back down after the sun, and not a single smoky day so far. Not one! Any time I'm starting to feel like I'm all done with the hot/rainy weather, I remember that Anchorage is under a nasty pall of smoke from forest fires down south, and I'm immediately thankful for our weather again.


This is, hands down, simply the best ice cream ever. Even though it's non-dairy! Salted caramel, dark chocolate, and the faintest hint of coconut... mmmmm. Matt disagrees, but none of those things are exactly his favorite; I'm not going to try too hard to convince him of the ontological superiority of my dessert, though. Then I'd have to share!

Speaking of sharing desserts, Little Bear is sounding out words well enough now that we can't get away with spelling out desserts around him. He's known i-c-e-c-r-e-a-m for a while, and last night when Matt asked me if I'd made p-i-e, he perked up and asked what kind of pie it was.

Kit is walking and running, still losing her balance and falling over close to half the time, but she walked all the way across the living room several times tonight before she toppled! She prefers to hold onto my finger, though, and if she isn't in the mood to walk on her own when I try to get her to let go, she certainly makes sure I'm aware of her opinion. 

Her latest all-the-time word is "ba," bath. We spend lots of time running down the hall toward the bathroom with her shouting "ba! ba! ba!", then trying to turn her around and convince her to do something else. Usually, she turns toward the deck door instead and starts asking to go out on the "deh! deh!" It's not very conducive to getting things done! I'm glad she's talking and we can understand her, though. Other words we're hearing: "duh," done (at the table); "mo," more; "wa," water (water bottle); "ma" and "da," mom and dad; "bah," ball; "meh!", amen (while folding her hands).

This doesn't sound like a terribly busy summer so far, does it? Why haven't I been blogging? I've been home with the kids, doing a little school, enjoying the summer, eating ice cream... and packing.

We're moving! After going in ridiculous circles with our lender and the local government, everything finally worked out with the house we made an offer on several months ago, and Matt and I signed the final paperwork yesterday. We're pretty excited! There's a lot of cleaning and packing and cleaning and moving and cleaning to do yet, but very soon we will be in our own house!

As a side note, our sale absolutely would have fallen through without the immense amount of work our realtor put in, meeting with many people at the borough offices—even our lender was strongly encouraging us to forget about this one and look for something else. If you're looking to buy in the Fairbanks/North Pole area, we wholeheartedly recommend Billy at Madden Real Estate.

We're enjoying the challenge of planning a menu around whatever the CSA gives us each week, and it's been great learning to use new vegetables! I can't tell you how happy I was today, though, that I won't have to think too hard about what to do with any of the vegetables I picked up this afternoon: snap peas, pak choi, multicolored carrots, broccoli, kohlrabi, squash, and lettuce. And a bunch of thyme, which didn't make it into the picture somehow. All things that I already know how to use—perfect for what will definitely be a very busy week around here!

I hope that your summer is going well! I'm looking forward to getting back into a more regular cycle of blogging once we are settled into the new house.

15 June 2016

Midweek Motley

What we're doing

I will be so glad, y'all, to have Matt home for bedtime tomorrow night. The kids haven't really seen him since bedtime Monday night, because they've been sleepyheads in the mornings and he's been out late into the night these last two nights. Between Kit, who has a cold and by the end of the day just wants to cling to me, and Little Bear, who maybe is jealous that the only present parent is giving his sister all the attention? I don't know exactly what's up with him, but he's been a handful and a half at bedtime. I'm glad that Matt is on the parish council (tonight's out-late-reason), but I'm also really glad that I won't be soloing bedtime tomorrow.

Kit really only sounds sick when she's upset, usually because she's been thwarted in whatever she was trying to do: escape onto the deck, chase after Little Bear's train engine, grab the fish sauce out of the fridge... I don't know why she goes after the fish sauce specifically, it's not the closest bottle when the door opens, but if she manages to grab anything it's always the fish sauce. But anyway, she's usually not upset, and is generally very happy. She's been extra smiley today, because she just learned last night both A) how to pull herself up to stand with her hands on the kitchen step stool, and B) that when she's standing there, she can walk all around the kitchen pushing the step stool, around and around in circles. She's so excited and proud of herself!

Our first week of CSA vegetables has gone really well. I was a little intimidated by this batch when we brought them home—I'd never cooked with most of them; I'd never even heard of sorrel or mizuna! So there was definitely a bit of "what have I done?!?" going on, contemplating a whole summer of building menus around new and weird vegetables. But you know what? It's been wonderful.

What we're eating

The sorrel was the first thing we cooked up. And that right there is a change—I'm pretty sure that the only green leafy thing I have ever willingly cooked instead of leaving raw is spinach, and that pretty much exclusively in eggs. But the "farm notes" for last week said that sorrel has a lemony flavor and is good wilted with fish, so I pulled a little pack of halibut cheeks out of the freezer and opened up my copy of Cooking Alaskan—which has a startling number of recipes for sorrel, actually—and wilted it. It gets much, much smaller when you wilt it! I was expecting shrinkage similar to that of spinach, but it definitely shrank more than spinach does. It tasted very good, though! Lemony indeed. Some of the chives also accompanied the halibut, but were more garnish-y than vegetable-y.

Next came the bok choy. About 2/3 of it went into the wok with sesame oil, pork, and a coconut aminos-based teriyaki sauce. I loved the flavor, and how you get two such different textures from it: the dark green leaf becomes smooth and silky, and the white stem remains firm. Both parts were surprisingly sweet, and went really well with the teriyaki.

It certainly wouldn't have hurt to use the whole head of bok choy, but I did appreciate having some still around this morning so I could throw it in our fried rice for lunch. It's so fun to hear Little Bear exclaim, "I just love bok choy!"

Sunday evening was a throw-everything-in-a-skillet night, and it turned out really well! Olive oil, garlic, and sweet Italian sausage cooked through, then I added some cooked brown rice and a can of petite diced tomatoes, and when that was warm I stirred in about half of our bunch of spinach and let it cook just until the spinach was a very dark green.

This prove so popular that I basically remade it for supper yesterday, since I had two links of Italian sausage that needed to be used; to change it up a little, I used a larger can of crushed tomatoes instead of the petite diced, and served it with pasta instead of rice.

I've had radishes before, but only raw, as part of a veggie tray; it had never occurred to me that you could cook them. The farm notes included a recipe for brown butter radishes, though. Butter obviously wasn't an option for Kit or me, but I decided to try sautéing them in olive oil. They sweetened up quite a bit, losing much of their "bite;" Kit wasn't much of a fan, but the rest of us enjoyed them.

And there's some of the arugula-chickweed salad, which we've been enjoying alongside most of our suppers over the past week. I was surprised by how much we all like it! Matt was just saying the other evening that grocery store leaf lettuce is going to taste awfully bland, when we go back to that in the fall.

The mizuna keeps being intended for meals, and then not quite making it in... My latest plan was to put it in homemade chicken noodle soup tonight, but it was way too hot for soup. If I can make myself turn the oven on tomorrow morning, it'll go into an egg bake to have around for breakfasts. Otherwise, I'll have a frizzy salad for lunch to use up the last assorted bits of greens; we pick up the new week's vegetables tomorrow after Matt finishes work!

What we're reading

Little Bear found a Margaret Wise Brown Golden Book treasury at the used book store the other week, and has been asking for stories from it each night before bed. I believe that it's called Friendly Tales. I'm so glad that they've collected so many of the classic Golden Books into treasury volumes to reprint! We also have Farm Tales, and my mom has one with a bunch of stories illustrated by Eloise Wilkin, who is one of my favorites for little kid books. Anyone know if there are any others?

I'm still sort of pretending to work on The Lost Arts of Modern Civilization, and I'll keep pretending, but at this point it's more for the principle of "I started it so I'm going to finish it." Maybe one of the remaining essays will strike a chord with me, but so far I've just been irked by it.

Instead, I've been reading cookbooks. A friend brought over two allergy-friendly cookbooks earlier this week, The Allergy Self-Help Cookbook and What's To Eat?, and I'm looking forward to using the birthday cake recipe she recommended from the latter for Kit's birthday. If I can make myself turn the oven on. We're supposed to get into the 80s for her birthday! Maybe we'll all just eat (dairy-free) ice cream instead. :-)

12 June 2016

No-bake Granola Bars

I know I've mentioned these no-bake peanut butter chocolate chip granola bars a few times lately, but they're just so delicious and easy! We've tried several variations on the base recipe over the past couple of months, and I have to say that I believe we've found a winner. Our family's winner, at any rate; as you'll see in a moment, it's easy to adapt them to fit your own preferences!

The basic recipe that I've linked above, from Don't Waste The Crumbs, makes a good bar. Salty, sweet, holds together very well instead of crumbling apart like many other no-bake recipes I've tried before. I'll let you go visit her site for the original recipe, but for comparison purposes, I'll tell you that her honey-to-peanut butter ratio is 1:1 and her pretzels are crushed to breadcrumb-consistency.

Pros: Like I said, they stick together really, really well. And they only get fingers a little bit sticky; Little Bear, who hates having messy fingers, didn't have a problem eating them---though he did ask me to wash his fingers when he finished eating.

Cons: They were a little too sweet for me, and they softened significantly in just a short amount of time after removing them from the refrigerator; the day I brought one to town as a snack for Little Bear, it was a very good thing that I had a pack of wipes in my purse to clean him up!

The chunkier version was actually attempted by my younger brother, but I'm going to include it anyway because we learned something important from it. He included the optional peanuts from the basic recipe, which I've never done, and crushed his pretzels by hand to a much-less-fine size than the recipe called for. The largest pieces I saw were a little smaller than 1 cm. He also used the "if needed" coconut oil because his mixture was too dry.

Pros: They were chunkier, more like what I've always thought of as a "granola bar."

Cons: They didn't hold together well at all; they were too dry, and crumbled. The only reason I can come up with is that the pretzels needed to be crushed more finely in order to hold the bars together. He used exactly the same peanut butter I did, it even came out of the same bucket!, so it wasn't a difference in our peanut butters.

An almond butter version, as Yvonne asked about the other week. I maintained the original 1:1 ratio, just substituting almond butter for peanut butter, and used almond extract instead of vanilla extract. For the record, this was the first time I've ever used almond butter so I don't know whether mine was typical or of an unusually runny consistency, but it was not as thick as peanut butter.

Pros: They held together well, and tasted like almond. Stirring the mini chocolate chips into this batch was easier than with any of the peanut butter batches.

Cons: Soooooo sticky! Little Bear refused to eat his until I brought him a wet towel, so that he could wash his fingers after each bite. They were too sweet for me again; I had thought that the stronger salty/roasted flavor of the almond butter would balance out the sweetness of the honey, but the sweet and salty notes were more competing than complementing each other. In my opinion, at least; it turns out that I don't actually like almond butter very much, so take that with a grain of salt.

And finally, our perfect version! I changed the honey-to-peanut butter ratio to 3:5, and crushed the pretzels to a coarse cornmeal consistency.

Pros: These held together very well, even staying fairly firm when I brought them to town with us (so they were out of the fridge for an extended period of time.) And they were not very sticky at all; Little Bear had to be reminded to wash his hands after snack, because he didn't think that his fingers were sticky. They were not as sweet, which I appreciated, and felt more filling, so it worked fine for me to cut them a little bit smaller.

Cons: It was harder to get the mini chocolate chips into this version, and I wound up basically kneading it like dough to work them in.

Here you go: Shifflerhaus No-bake Peanut Butter Granola Bars

2 cups oats (instant or rolled; I used instant)
4 oz pretzels
1/3 cup mini chocolate chips
1 1/4 cups peanut butter
3/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla

Line an 8"x10" baking dish with parchment paper. Crush pretzels in a food processor or blender until ground, about the consistency of cornmeal. Pour into a bowl and mix in oats and chocolate chips. In a smaller bowl or liquid measuring cup, combine peanut butter, honey, and vanilla. Pour over the dry ingredients and thoroughly combine; you'll likely wind up needing to use your hands. Dump into parchment-lined pan and press out smoothly, giving attention to the corners. Place in the freezer for 30 minutes or in the fridge for several hours. Remove from pan, cut into bars, wrap individually in plastic, and store in the fridge.


- It would be worth trying the almond butter again using these quantities, except that I don't have enough almond butter left to make another batch, and I didn't like it enough to want to buy more. If you try it out, though, let me know! Or if you think that I must have had a particularly poor first jar of almond butter and there's a better brand that I should try before writing it off altogether, I'm willing to consider it. :-)

- I've just now realized that not everyone uses natural peanut butter, a.k.a. the kind you have to stir before using. All of the no-stir brands that I've seen contain soybean oil, so we can't use them, and anymore it doesn't even seem out of the ordinary to me to stir the peanut butter jar each time I open it. In other words, I can't tell you what will happen if you use no-stir peanut butter in this recipe; if you try it and find out, though, I'd be interested to know how much of a difference it makes.

09 June 2016

Midweek Motley

What we're doing

Our miniature "container garden" on the deck is growing well, for the most part. The herbs all seem content, and the Siberian bush tomatoes are getting bushy indeed. Our grape tomato plant, on the other hand, is definitely less than thrilled with the 40s and 50s we've been having; I think I need to pull it inside, if I can find somewhere that Kit won't be constantly getting into it. The green lettuce is growing more quickly than the red, though today I noticed Little Bear knocking over one of the reds when he watered it, so that may be the reason. The strawberry plants in their hanging basket are covered with little white berries, and a few of them are beginning to pink; more and more of the berry plants' leaves are starting to turn brown, though, and I'm not sure what's going on there. Little Bear is still being very helpful with the weeding and watering, and is always proud to show off "his" plants when we have visitors.

Kit's vocabulary is growing. I know we're often the only ones who understand her, but she's not quite 1, so that's normal! We're hearing "boom" frequently these days, as she's constantly looking for opportunities to drop things on the floor so she can use her new word. Another new one this week is "buh" (bye), which she says every time I hang up the phone. Oh, and "aaah-meh!" She's just started folding her hands when we all sit down to pray before meals, which is so cute, and then when we get to the Amen she often shouts "aaah-meh!" and beams at her own cleverness.

What we're eating

This afternoon we picked up our first "share" of the summer from a CSA that we signed up with this spring. Since we're still renting and I don't have the ability to plant a big garden right now, I've been so excited about getting produce fresh from a local farm each week this summer, and expanding our family's repertoire of vegetables consumed. Well, I had my own vegetable prejudices confronted right off the bat; there aren't any vegetables that I "won't eat," exactly, but despite knowing that Matt likes it, I have never once brought home arugula in our nearly-5 years of marriage. And what went into the top of our sack of vegetables this afternoon? A large bag of arugula-chickweed salad. But I ate it! And it wasn't as off-putting as I remembered... which may possibly be related to the fact that I make my vinaigrettes with a 1:1 ratio of oil and vinegar... Everything tasted more or less like balsamic. But still. 

Here's the whole of our leafy loot. From the top left: arugula-chickweed salad, spinach, sorrel, chives, bok choy, mizuna mustard, and radishes. Kit helped herself to some of the mizuna while I was putting everything away, and she didn't seem to mind it, though she didn't wind up actually swallowing any of it. Little Bear groused about not liking chickweed, because his youngest aunt doesn't, but we told him that he had to try it anyway and he wound up excitedly asking for a second helping of salad.

I'm in the process right now of testing out the no-bake granola bars from last week with almond butter instead of peanut butter, so we should have a post with the main recipe for those and a couple of adaptations up soon!

What we're reading

From Haley at Carrots for Michaelmas, Tim Burton's Big Fish, Me Before You, and the Terrible Power of Story
 - Beautiful, inspirational look at Story, at how powerful a force storytelling is in forming and directing our hearts and minds. She reminded me strongly of J.R.R. Tolkien's essay On Fairy-Stories, the conveying of fundamental Truth through myth.

From Meg of Held By His Pierced Hands, Heavy Blessings
 - Reflecting on the Visitation and the pregnancy of St Elizabeth, Meg delves into how receiving blessings with joy and gratitude does not preclude acknowledging that some blessings can be difficult to carry.

From Tiffany of Don't Waste the Crumbs, All-purpose Slow Cooker Chicken
 - Did you know that you can roast a chicken, roast it, in the slow cooker? I had no idea. It worked perfectly, though! And we really, really appreciated being able to cook the chicken without heating up the house.

From Katie of Kitchen Stewardship, 3 Common Summertime Toxins (& How to Avoid Them)

From Kendra of Don't Waste the Crumbs, Companion Gardening Beginners Guide

From Molly Green Magazine, Allowing Yourself Time to Heal

And I'm still listening to Andy Minter's recording of Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda on LibriVox, but I'm getting close to the end; I'm still very impressed with and thoroughly enjoying Minter's presentation, and was so excited to see that he has also done the sequel, Rupert of Hentzau, which I've actually never read. That will be a treat!

08 June 2016

Sourdough Cinnamon Roll Bread

This would be one of those "happy accidents" in the kitchen: a recipe that was apparently a total failure, but instead is getting renamed and added to my recipe file. Love those!

We made sourjacks for breakfast after Mass again this past weekend, so there was about half a cup of leftover starter sitting on the counter. Flipping through the sourdough section of my cookbook, I found something that sounded delicious: sourdough cinnamon rolls. Matt said yes, please make that!, so I fed the starter another cup and a half each of flour and water, and gave it about 24 hours to get good and foamy. Then Little Bear and I started in on the recipe... But by the time it said we were ready to let the dough rise, I was pretty skeptical. It did say that it made a soft dough, but soft enough that I was still stirring it with a spatula instead of kneading it? I conferred with my mom and decided to let it rise as it was; I could always add a little more flour after the first rise.

After the first rise, it was a mess. I'd barely even call it "dough"! It poured out of the bowl onto the countertop, closer to the consistency of a quickbread batter. I kneaded in another cup or so of flour, which made it so that I could sort of maneuver it around, but my hands were thickly coated in the sticky mess, and there was clearly no way that I was getting a dough with enough form to roll out flat and make proper cinnamon rolls without adding a lot more flour. The starter in the dough could probably eventually get the dough to rise if I added the extra flour, but I didn't want to wait another day before baking them! 

So I gave up. Eh, I didn't really want cinnamon rolls anyway... and I'm out of powdered sugar, so I couldn't frost them even if I did make them... Never mind the fact that I made some more powdered sugar for another recipe later that afternoon, anyway; I was looking for excuses. But, I have a huge problem with throwing food away, and I felt badly about disappointing Matt and Little Bear. I looked at the bags of raisins and brown sugar, looked at the little boy who was so excited about cinnamon rolls, and decided to take a chance.

Little Bear eagerly dumped handfuls of brown sugar and raisins on top of the lump of sticky dough, and carefully shook on some cinnamon. I kneaded it all together as best I could, split it in two, and dumped it into two greased bread pans. When it had risen, we threw it in the oven at the temperature the cinnamon rolls would have baked at, and hoped for the best.

And the result? Better than I could have hoped! The loaves slice nicely, and somehow perfectly merge the tenderness you expect in a sweet roll with the sponginess of sourdough bread. The sourdough tang is certainly there, but it doesn't overpower the sweetness or the cinnamon. It's like eating slices of cinnamon roll, minus the mess! You could certainly ice the top of the loaves, too, if you wanted to bring the bread one step closer to cinnamon-roll-hood, but we're enjoying it all by itself.

Here's the recipe, if you don't mind getting sticky and want to give it a shot yourself. And just in case your dough turns out like, well, dough, I'll include the "real" cinnamon roll directions, too.

Sourdough Cinnamon Roll Bread

2 cups sourdough starter
1 cup lukewarm milk of choice
3+ cups flour
2 eggs
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 to 2 teaspoons cinnamon
a couple handfuls of brown sugar and raisins

Mix together starter, milk, and 2 cups of flour, beating until smooth. Add eggs and oil, and beat thoroughly again. In a small bowl combine sugar, salt, soda, and 1/2 cup flour, then sprinkle mixture over the dough and stir gently. Gently knead in another 1/2 cup of flour, with a spatula if necessary. If it looks like a soft dough, congratulations! You can make proper cinnamon rolls out of it if you want to. If you're not sure whether it's "soft" or "soup," don't worry; that's how mine looks. Leave the dough in a bowl in a warm place, covered with wax paper, to rise until doubled. (Sourdough takes much longer than yeast bread to rise, and I can't give you an exact number of hours—that will depend of the room temperature, the humidity, your starter's temperament, etc.)

When the dough has doubled, if it looks like a ball of dough, go ahead and divide it in half, roll out each half into a rectangle, top with the cinnamon, brown sugar and raisins, roll it up lengthwise, cut it into 1" wide cinnamon rolls, and put them in a greased pan cut side down. Cover and rise until doubled, which could take hours and hours again. 

If your dough looks like a soupy, sticky mess, don't panic; grease two loaf pans well. Knead in, again with a spatula if necessary, about a cup more of flour or enough to make it slightly handle-able. Knead in the cinnamon, raisins and brown sugar. Divide the dough in half and put/glop/pour into the two prepared pans. Cover and rise until doubled, hours and hours etc.

Whichever form your dough wound up in, when is has doubled again, bake at 375 degrees F for about 40 minutes. Turn them out of the pan immediately and cool on wire racks.

01 June 2016

End-of-month motley: the sweeping update/excuse edition

The title probably says it all, right? And here I am, not even managing to post it until June. So sorry, lazy blogger, etc.

What we're doing
We're all enjoying the outdoors, now that it's cooled back down to reasonable 50s and 60s from the insufferable 80s we had a week and a half ago. Well, all but Matt. Birch pollen is tapering off, but he seems to have just this year become allergic, or at least much more allergic than he was, to some other kind of pollen: possibly cottonwood or aspen, since their "fluff" started flying right around the time he got worse.

I've been moving slowly for a couple of weeks now; there's a whole collection of things going on which are causing fatigue and abdominal pain, but I think we've finally figured out what all is happening and how to deal with it. So! Antibiotics, probiotics, supplements, teas... it feels like my to-take schedule is longer than my daily to-do list sometimes. But I'm feeling better, slowly, and I'm grateful for the midwives and other practitioners who have helped figure out what's going on.

Little Bear is firmly against the idea of summer break, so we're still doing school; all of the public schools up here finished a week and a half ago, and most of the homeschoolers I know were done a few days before that. If he wants to keep doing schoolwork this badly, though, I'm not going to say no... It's piqued my interest in the concept of trimester systems for schooling instead of semesters, too, so if you have any experience with that I'd love to hear about it!

We're using the Critical Thinking Co's beginning level math books for the summer, and so far book 1 is just ridiculously easy, but I didn't want to start out with book 2 because there are a couple of topics introduced in 1 that Little Bear hasn't seen yet. He's having fun with it, though, and would rather fly through 20 pages in one sitting than skip over things. I will not be at all surprised if we finish the entire book 1 by the end of May, though!

Kit wants to walk everywhere, all the time, but still insists on holding onto a parental finger with each hand. She's capable of walking without holding on, but doesn't seem to believe that she can: as soon as she realizes that she's not holding on with both hands, she starts flailing and sits down. She's growing more vocal too, and expressing her opinions more firmly, which can make me a little crazy sometimes because no, child, I cannot let you hold my fingers and walk in circles for hours, or go out on the deck while I'm trying to make supper, or let you eat the tomato plant, or whatever it is that you simply must do right this minute. She's such a happy, funny girl, though, it more than makes up for the fussy moments.

And! I'm still nervous about saying anything in case it doesn't work out, but I'm going to go with my principle of telling people anyway in order to ask for prayers: we are in the process of buying a house! We had the inspection last week and the engineer found only a handful of minor, inexpensive fixes; there are some complicated paperwork issues we have to work out before the deal can move forward, though, so we'd sure appreciate prayers on that front. I'm so excited about this house; it's pretty much perfect! After looking for so long, it's hard to believe that we might actually be in our own house before summer ends.

What we're eating
There's been a batch of these no-bake peanut butter chocolate chip granola bars in the fridge more often than not since I discovered the recipe back in April. They are delicious, and so easy to make! Little Bear has lots of fun helping me mix them together and press them into the pan. 

There was some extra starter left in the bowl after we made sourdough flapjacks last Sunday, so I decided to see whether I could get away with feeding it spelt flour instead of white flour. The next morning it was very happy and bubbly, so I turned it into bread. I've made sourjacks more times than I can count, and sourdough brownies nearly as often, but I can't remember whether I've ever made bread with it before. This was a San Francisco-style French loaf, a.k.a. cheater sourdough bread, because there's a little yeast added to help the dough rise more quickly. It also meant that the loaf had less of that distinctive sour twang, which was a little disappointing. It was good bread, though!

What we're reading
Little Bear just signed up for our public library's summer reading program yesterday, and is very excited about writing down the titles of books he reads this summer. The PreK–2 level of the program includes stories the kids read or listen to, and I'm sure we'll use both, but I'm planning to encourage Little Bear to make at least one of the three titles each week be a story he reads himself.

I just discovered Librivox the other night: an online library of volunteer-read audio books in the public domain. Right now I'm thoroughly enjoying Andy Minter's recording of The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope, one of my longtime favorite novels. Minter is an excellent reader, and I'm looking forward to checking out more books he's done when I finish this one.

08 May 2016

Seven things I've been doing instead of blogging


Current project: making napkins for my mom out of that hydrangea print!


After we finish the day's book work, Little Bear more often than not asks me to print off a tracing page "just for fun." I'm looking forward to checking out new curricula to see if anything catches my eye for the coming year! Or for the summer... so far, I'm not having much luck convincing Little Bear that we should take a summer break. We'll see.


Strawberries! It's still getting too chilly at night to risk leaving most plants out, but as long as we're not expecting a frost, these strawberries are fine to stay out. I can't believe they already have blossoms!

In this next week or two, I need to figure out what plants we're putting where; I know that we want to plant herbs, spinach, tomatoes, and hopefully some flowers, but I need to get it mapped out so I know how many plants we can handle.


Kit is 10.5 months old now, and she and Little Bear love playing together. She's walking now too, holding onto our fingers, and I spend a lot of time walking in circles with her.


Strawberries went on sale a week or so ago, and somehow over the course of the week something like 20 lbs of them followed me home. Two batches of muffins and a couple quarts of sliced berries went in the freezer, and I put up 6 pints of strawberry syrup and 7 pints of strawberry-rhubarb jam. We'll be able to taste springtime for the rest of the year!


I finally finished Theresa Tomeo's Extreme Makeover, which was good. I really wasn't her target audience, though, so my experience of it was more "I wish more women heard these things!" than "how have I never heard this before?!?"

The other night I blew through On the Way Home, Laura Ingalls Wilder's journal of their trip from De Smet to Missouri. It was interesting to hear her as an adult and mother, and I enjoyed the "setting" given by her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, at the beginning and end. I have a slightly different mental picture of Laura now, I think, than I did from my much younger reading of her other books. The depiction of the drought and crop failures was sobering, and certainly made me stop and think about what effect such a drought would have on us today.

The Lost Arts of Modern Civilization by Mitchell Kalpakgian is my current read, but it requires more concentration than I can muster when I finally have time to read in the evenings, so it's going slowly! I'll withhold judgement until I've finished it.


I know, it's not a word, but I needed one more participle... We've had beautiful weather lately, and the kids and I have enjoyed getting out for daily walks and playing at parks around town. Little Bear has had fun introducing his sister to swings, and was very excited to bring out the always-know-where-you-are tricycle (badly in need of WD40) to ride back and forth on the deck!

02 May 2016

Going to bed before the sun

It's not quite summer yet, but we can tell that we're getting close: leaves are out, 52 degrees F actually felt chilly today (after ridiculously early high 60s last week), and the sun's insomnia is growing nightly. The sun rose at 5:11 this morning, and it won't set until nearly 10:30 tonight... and it'll be up again even earlier tomorrow.

When Little Bear was a baby, our apartment had blackout curtains, and we made good use of them! Our current apartment doesn't, though; it doesn't actually have any curtains, or the wherewithal to hang curtains—there are heavy insulating shades which block a fair amount of light, but plenty seeps in around the edges. I suppose that maybe we could ask for permission to put holes in the fancy pine-looking window-frames to mount curtain rods, but... that's a lot of work, and more money than we want to spend on a place that we're just renting. Little Bear didn't have much trouble with the light last summer, and Kit was small enough that she slept anywhere and everywhere, so we haven't bothered to do anything about it.

Well, I had a very insistent alarm clock at 6 o'clock this morning. Kit babbled cheerfully as she vigorously patted my face, "ah done, mama, mama, ah done!" All done sleeping, indeed.

Lately I've been putting her down for naps and bedtime with the window shade open to help her grow accustomed to sleeping with all of that sunshine pouring in, and she's done well staying asleep for most of the night... I'll keep working on it, and hope that we don't keep waking up so early! She's good and tired tonight, so we'll see if that helps.

27 April 2016

Getting organized

Happy Easter! That... was a longer break than I'd intended to take. At least we're still in the Easter season, right?

The days are full, as ever, and we've settled into a fairly steady post-Lent rhythm wherein most things get done most days and I learn to let go of the other things that I thought needed doing but apparently didn't, because they didn't happen and we all survived. Blogging seems to have been one of the "let go" things, but I want to try and get back to carving out a spot for it in my week. I know from experience that there are some things that I can only "let go" for so long before it starts negatively impacting me, and using words and language creatively is one of those things. (More creatively than the "Don't try to get gunk out of your sister's nose!" conversations I have too frequently with the kids, I mean.)

Which is to say, this isn't exactly a real catching-up post so much as a brief but earnest promise that I'm going to try, and a completely unsolicited plug for a bundle of resources that happens to have a bunch of ebooks on the subject of organization and schedules! I love organization and schedules, and I'm actually geniunely looking forward to exploring different people's approaches to time management as I figure out how to bring back blogging and some of the other things that have been slipping. Not quite your cup of tea? You might want to pop over and check out the 2016 Ultimate Homemaking Bundle anyway: they have an incredible collection of more than 90 books and other resources on everything from budgeting to motherhood, meal planning to cookbooks to self care.

Actually, as much as I'm looking forward to the organizational books, it was something in that last category that bumped me from "I think I would get a lot out of a lot of these" to "where is my wallet?": a full eCourse on diastasis recti prevention and treatment. I had diastasis recti while pregnant with Kit, with sudden sharp, tearing pain across the top of my abdomen every evening for two weeks until I thought to mention it to my chiropractor; by that point, there was a gap several fingers wide in my rectus abdominus. I absolutely would buy the eCourse to learn how to help it heal and keep from going through that again! And just that one course retails for more than the cost of the entire bundle.

The 2016 Ultimate Homemaking Bundle costs $29.97, and it's only available until May 2. If you know you want it, though, go ahead and pick it up right away: until Thursday night, April 28, you get the .mobi (Kindle format) and .epub (other ereader format) versions of all of the books included for free, instead of as a $10 upgrade (the non-upgraded bundle includes the .pdf versions of the books, which definitely work—I only got the .pdf versions of the 2015 bundle last year, but if you plan to read them on an ereader or phone instead of reading on a computer or printing them, it'll be easier to read the versions that are actually formatted for a small screen.)

Anyway, I'm excited about this year's bundle! If you check it out, I'd love to hear what subjects they cover that interest you, and whether you wind up picking up a copy of the bundle for yourself. And hopefully I'll be back into the swing of posting regularly soon!

18 March 2016

Planning for Holy Week

We have the Solemnity of St Joseph on Saturday, and then Holy Week is upon us! It's time to try and hammer out our plan for this final stretch: lots of liturgies happening, lots of things to make and do, but all the while trying to keep a sense of solemnity and spiritual preparation for Easter.

...then add little kids into the accounting, and the "low bar" goal becomes something more like "keep the chaos to a dull roar."

Solemnity of St Joseph, March 19
There's no Mass for the day at any of the parishes in town, as far as I know. Disappointing, but we'll read the readings at home in the morning, and read and talk about St Joseph with Little Bear throughout the day. Because he's the patron saint of husbands, fathers, workers, and Sicilians, we also make a point of celebrating St Joseph as one of Matt's patrons. 

Supper: something Italian, anyway... I'm sure Matt and Little Bear will both vote for pasta. Most of the recipes I've found that are explicitly linked to St Joseph's feast day involve ricotta and cream and other wonderful things that I can't have right now, but we'll think of something. Last year I made a chocolate sheet cake, but I don't want to have half a cake left over and sitting in the kitchen during Holy Week, so I'll have to find something smaller for dessert. Matt and Little Bear have been talking about milkshakes lately, so maybe the two of them will make those.

Palm Sunday, March 20
Mass: 7:30am, possibly with a procession? There was one last year, but no one said anything about it last weekend. We'll hope it happens!

Palms will immediately go up with the icons, to discourage Little Bear from playing with them... If it's warm enough to take the kids for a walk, we will go hunting for pussy willows as well.

Supper: Psari plaki, cinnamon carrots, and long-grain brown rice. If two years' occurrence makes something "traditional," the psari plaki is our traditional Palm Sunday supper. Or will be, once I'm washing dishes Sunday evening. The recipe is based on a traditional Greek dish for Palm Sunday, and brings the day a brief "taste" of the joy and richness we're looking forward to on Easter.

Monday/Tuesday of Holy Week, March 21/22
It is my firm intention to play the Easter clothes prep game on one of these days, and not let it wait until later in the week. Kit's dress, tights, sweater, shoes; Little Bear's vest, shirt, pants, socks, tie, shoes; whatever Matt and I are wearing: I want to see everything laid out all together, mended, ironed, set aside neatly together so it's all ready for Easter morning.

Just to get our week off to a great start, Kit has a doctor appointment and vaccinations first thing Monday morning.

Tuesday evening, I need to bake the Jidasé for Wednesday.

Spy Wednesday, March 23
Jidasé, Judas buns, for breakfast.

Little Bear and I will read about Judas' agreement to betray Christ, which is where the day's name comes from. Interesting fact of the day: in obsolete usage, "spy" could be defined as meaning "ambush" or "snare," according to the 1933 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Those meanings help "spy" make a little more sense in the context of Judas' actions, I think.

Little Bear loves hard-boiled eggs, so he should be excited to help me make a bunch of them this afternoon to have them ready to dye. He definitely remembers dying eggs last year—I've been hearing about it all Lent!

Holy Thursday, March 24
Mass: 7:00pm. We're doing it. Little Bear has never been, and it's a long, long Mass that doesn't even start until bedtime, so it could be very hard... But Matt's on the parish council, so he was asked to volunteer to have his feet washed. And maybe the novelty of the special liturgy and the being dressed nicely and at church late at night will inspire good behavior? Let's hope so.

Midmorning, I'll start the dough for the Hot Cross Buns. We have a couple of picture books about the Passion, which I'll pull out in the afternoon.

Supper: I have an unfortunate 2-for-2 record of somehow catching lamb on fire in the oven when I try to cook it, so we will not be having lamb this year. In past years we've always tried to have a nicer supper on Holy Thursday, in commemoration of the Last Supper, but because we need to be able to leave right away afterward for Mass, this year I'm leaning toward a simpler shepherds pie with a spinach salad.

Good Friday, March 25
Hot Cross Buns for breakfast.

Good Friday is a fast day, and while Little Bear and I will not be technically fasting, whatever we eat during the day will (hopefully) be plain and unexciting.

I don't have any idea how to make this happen, but ideally I'd like to try and keep things fairly still and quiet between noon and 3pm, the hours that Christ hung on the cross.

There's a chance we will make it to the Good Friday evening liturgy, but we're not going to push our luck by planning on it. We'll likely do the Stations of the Cross as a family after supper instead. In the evening, Matt and I will begin the Divine Mercy novena.

Supper: Greek lentil soup, crusty bread. I'm planning to use the soup recipe from A Continual Feast, which features vinegar "in memory of the vinegar that Christ was offered on the cross."

Holy Saturday, March 26
The dough for my Italian Easter Bread will get started right away in the morning, and we'll dye eggs with Little Bear while the dough rises. My mother braids raw dyed eggs into her bread and they always cook through completely, but so far the colored eggs in my Easter breads have always come out soft-boiled at best, so I'm going to just stick hard-boiled dyed eggs in it this year. 

We'll also make these spinach-artichoke bites to bring to my parents' house for Easter. If I recall correctly, there was a good bit of spinach-artichoke dip left over last year, so we'll have to work out whether we're bringing that as well or Matt will take care of it at home. (I figure this goes without saying, but while I can make the Jidasé, Hot Cross Buns, and Italian Easter Bread with non-dairy substitutes, I can't do that with these!)

This is not the right year for us to attempt going to the Easter Vigil with the kids, but hopefully some year soon. Once Little Bear is asleep, Matt and I will go around taking down all of the purple cloth covering our crucifixes, statues, icons, etc. The icon of the Resurrection will come out, the black beans in the "sacrifice jar" will be traded out for jelly beans, and we will set out Easter baskets.

Spread out like this, I don't sound too crazy for thinking I can do all these things, do I? As long as I'm really truly not trying to do any extra things outside of the house, and the children are at least marginally cooperative, I think—I hope—I'm choosing to trust that we're going to have a not-too-chaotic Holy Week. And I pray that yours is on the less-chaotic side, as well! What do your plans look like? 

We thank You, O Lord, for having brought us thus far in our journey to seek You anew. Forgive us where we have failed along the way. Strengthen us to continue with peace of soul this last week of our journey, that we may partake in the joyous and glorious day of Your Resurrection. Amen.

From Daily Lenten Reflections for Orthodox Christians, by Emily Harakas.

The list/plan/thing wound up having seven days/entries, so yay, I can link up with Kelly at This Ain't The Lyceum for Seven Quick Takes! You can find more thoughts on Holy Week and Easter preparation over there this week.