Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sitting on Tolkien's Desk

We took a family field trip on Saturday to the Wade Center at Wheaton College. Look at that blue sky! Look at it!


The Wade Center is home to a tiny yet incredible display of the artifacts of some very cool authors, like C. S. Lewis. That's his wardrobe. That's Edmund standing in front of it. You may recall that we just listened to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe on audio. We also just watched the Disney movie version.

On the way to the Wade Center, Edmund peppered us with endless questions about the Navy SEALS, of which the Chef and I know next to nothing. Not sure what this had to do with our field trip. But I cannot disassociate C.S. Lewis and Navy SEALS now.


Without any signs telling us not to touch the wardrobe...we touched it. It's full of coats! We touched those too. This warning is on the inside of the wardrobe door.

C. S. Lewis's grandfather MADE that wardrobe. He adzed it himself. I don't know what that means, but it's very cool and I want the Chef to make me one. But I won't hold my breath.


This is C.S. Lewis's desk and chair. They have the chair tied to the desk, so we didn't sit there, but of course we looked in the drawers to see the ink and paint stains. You can see his pen, his tea mug, tea pot, and pewter mug, but you can't touch them. They are behind glass. They also have nearly 2,500 of the books of his personal library complete with his handwritten notes in the margins, which you can touch if you need to, in the Reading Room.

In an alternate universe, I am working on a fantasy novel with Lewis and Tolkien as the main characters and I spend most of my time in the Wade Center Reading Room doing research. That's re-SEARCH, the British pronunciation, not RE-search. And I get to use Lewis's tea mug. And I get to wear Dorothy Sayers' eyeglasses, which are also on display. Have you read Dorothy Sayers? I have a major crush on Lord Peter Wimsey. You should read all about him. Start with Whose Body.


That's the High King Peter, who, after toting his 22 lb. baby sister around, decided to give it a rest right on J.R.R. Tolkien's desk. That's my baby on Tolkien's desk.

That's Susan fixing her French braid, behind him. She's very tall, and she's very proud of the fact that she can now French braid her own hair, cause the Lord gave me many gifts, but French braiding was not among them.

Peter pointed out that it's not a very big desk. It is the desk that Tolkien wrote, typed, and illustrated The Hobbit on though. He said so himself in a hand-written letter that's under the glass, under my baby's bum.

Every corner has a lovely display like this one. You can also see some of the props from the Disney movies The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Prince Caspian, including Nik-a-brik's sword, sheath, and dagger, which Edmund really liked, but couldn't touch.

When The Chef signed our names in the guest book, he noticed that we were two names below this guy.
He's Mark Coleridge, Archbishop of Canberra, Australia. He probably left when he saw us come in.

Did you know that Lewis's stepson, Douglas Gresham (son of Joy Gresham, and featured in the Lewis biographical movie, Shadowlands) has a cameo in each of the Disney movies? And that his kids' have cameos in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader? Very cool.


There are other authors represented in the Wade Center, including George Macdonald, who wrote The Princess and Curdie. Never read it, must change that. Also, Narnia and Hobbit illustrator, Pauline Baynes has a nice display as well.


That painting is not by Pauline Baynes. I followed all of the posted rules and did not use flash photography or take pictures of copyrighted material. If there was a rule about touching things or sitting on things, I didn't see it posted, and I'm sorry.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Friday Quick Takes



--- 1 ---


Some visual interest. Though this will never be a decorating blog, or an organizing blog, sometimes, I see real beauty in my home.


--- 2 ---

Last night for dinner, we had meatball sandwiches and hot dogs and sweet potato fries.And a salad. And the leftover cup of chili on the hot dogs. Go ahead and judge.

I read Megan Whalen Turner's The Thief. I got nervous around page 65/66, when one character asks another, "...do they really believe that?" referring to a creation story. Another character responds,

"...No, they don't believe that,...It's just religion. They like to go up to the temple on feast days and pretend that there is some god who wants worthless sacrificial bits of a cow, and people get to eat the rest. It's just an excuse to kill a cow."
But I shouldn't have been nervous. Those characters are in for a rude awakening.

The series is fascinating. Now you know why we had hot dogs for dinner last night.

--- 3 ---


Another pretty shot.

I got this wreath at Target. I've been looking for things that will stand out against the brown.
--- 4 ---
Most of you know that my husband, The Chef, is not actually a chef. He actually works with this guy.



And he works on this ongoing project.I've been watching it during "Laundry Folding Time," this week, but it's very difficult to keep folding, what with all the gorgeous footage and title screens and art. Lots of beautiful art. Makes me want to do my Rome semester all over again. Caravaggio. sigh.


Look at that bum.

I will be doing a Catholicism DVD Set Giveaway in February.
--- 5 ---
Yesterday, Baby J and I went to Babies and Books class at the library. For 30 minutes, we listen to stories, sing songs, clap our hands and play with shaker eggs. Baby J was there for all of five minutes, when she leaned over and yelled very loudly, "BEH!" in the neighboring baby's face. This caused screams followed by tears on the part of the other baby, and smiles and jazz hands on behalf of Baby J. I fear she may be a bully.



She's figuring out the whole crawling thing. She gets stuck under things and gets angry. Yesterday, she got her head stuck under the couch. I should have taken a picture of that.
--- 6 ---
Regarding Lucy. She did get a part in the play. A few smaller parts, that may or may not include solo song lines, and she gets to dance. She is a Napkin, in one song, which is wierd because Susan is also a Napkin in her school's production of Beauty and the Beast. I guess my girls are Napkin people. Napkins get to dance a lot too.
Also, regarding Lucy, we are hosting her entire class for a Half Birthday Ice Skating Party. I need prayers that we will have ice, and again, that there are no injuries.
I would never have dreamed of hosting a boy/girl party for Peter or Susan. Their classes were very different. Lucy is lucky that way. All the boys and girls are so nice and well-adjusted, with parents who care. I'm actually looking forward to this party.


--- 7 ---

Lastly, a special treat for you!





For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

How to be Sunny with Zero Sunshine

A few years ago, there was a February in Chicago with 18 minutes of sunshine. Eighteen minutes. In a month. There was also snow, sleet, freezing rain, or just regular rain at some point every single day. I called my beloved mother. I cried. And she ordered me some Uggs online.

My mom rocks.

But I've played that card. So, I've learned some other tricks to fight SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Wear bright colors. This was difficult last winter, when I was pregnant, and every maternity clothier from Target to A Pea in the Pod had winter lines featuring clothes in either black or dark grey. Gross. I did a little better at Old Navy where the scarf selection has never failed me, and at Boden, which began a maternity line just for me, it seemed.

I avoid wearing black. That being said, every one who lives in this city has a black coat, including me. But I'm looking for crimson, or cadet blue, or pink. Just haven't found it yet.

Turn on the lights! Turn on all the lights! It's freaking dark out there! Get the highest watt bulbs you can. Try to find bulbs that are below 5000K to avoid cold, bluish lights.

Light some candles. If I can't have the sun, I like to have scented mini suns glowing around the house. A scented candle changes the mood from gloomy to cozy. I love pumpkin, citrus or cinnamon scents. Find your favorite flavors and stock up. Target doesn't carry pumpkin scented candles much past November, as I have learned the hard way.

Use aromatherapy on your person. There's a reason my hand soap and my body wash are citrus scents. They remind me that summer will come again.


I don't often wear perfume, but when I do, it's usually Sugar Lemon from Fresh. Pioneer Woman introduced us, and it was love at first sniff.

Last year, desperate to use the $3.50 off a $10 purchase coupon for Ulta that did not include Bare Minerals or any of the other stuff I regularly purchase there, I found these OPI lotions in a six pack.
Lord knows, we go through a lot of hand lotion here. Hand lotion and lip balm.

But dressing in bright colors, turning on the lights and wearing scented lotion are a lot like taking a Tylenol when you have a broken bone. It's only going to help a little bit for a little while.

What really works against the winter doldrums is that bad word: exercise.

Walk in the mall.
Walk outside with these on.
Ice skate on a homemade rink in your backyard, or at the local flooded tennis courts.
Take a Zumba class.
Get Wii Fit.
Get a dog.
Get your butt moving.
Because nothing else is going to release the endorphins you need to stay sane.
Not even Chardonnay. Not even chocolate. Believe me, I've tried.

It is also important to have good friends.

Like the friend who will meet you at the mall at 9am in the freezing rain, and walk with you, and sit with you and chat when the baby has to nurse, and doesn't let you stop at Cinnabon for breakfast, but gently guides you toward the Subway.

Or the friend who will take turns holding said baby, when Baby has had it with the stroller. She is the friend who will listen to you cry on the phone about something stupid, like carpool, or whether or not your kid got to say a petition at the all-school Mass and then ask, "Wanna go for a walk?"

Friends like these are priceless. They are also necessary for those bitter, bitter cold days when you need to go out to lunch someplace fabulous, just to remind you that there are still fabulous places in the world.

And as a last resort, I fight the winter blues with an annual or bi-annual trip to someplace warm and sunny. Even a weekend with friends and their families in the Wisconsin Dells can do a lot to boost a girl's spirits. Plus, they have that wave pool with an indoor fake heated beach and umbrella drinks at the Great Wolf Lodge. Think you might be self-conscious in a bathing suit in February in the Dells? Think again. This is Wisconsin. Land of Cheese. They're not getting any sunshine either.

Can't afford a trip? No extra vacation days this year? Plan something else. Book Club, Dinner Club, Birthday Party, Half Birthday Party, Lia Sophia Party, Girls' Night Out, Trivial Pursuit Night. Planning things can help the longest season of the North pass more pleasantly.

Or you could always start a blog and act like you're an authority on things that other people take for granted. That works too.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

This Hurts Me More Than It Hurts You

I know you don't believe me, but truly, it would be so much easier for me to sort your dirty laundry for you.

But then you would never learn responsibility.

It would be so much easier for me to do the dinner dishes by myself, in complete blissful silence, and there would be the added benefit of actually having clean dishes and clean counters in the morning.

But then you would never learn diligence and perseverance.

It would be so much easier for me to let you go skating, even though you were disrespectful to me.

But then you would never learn respect. Or that I mean what I say.

It would be so much easier to let you off the hook when you told me that you didn't "really" have any homework, when you actually did "really" have homework.

But then you would never learn honesty.

It would be so much easier for me to say "Yes, you can go see any rated PG-13 thriller." without having to do online research, or let you manage your own i-Tunes account, without checking.

But then you would never know how much I care about your innocence.

It would be so much easier for me to let you wear that shirt, or that make-up, or that bathing suit.

But then you would never learn modesty. Or how much I care about your true beauty.

It would be so much easier if I could have a peaceful afternoon and let you play Poptropica for hours.

Believe me. It hurts me more than it hurts you.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Career Paths and Snowflake Bentley

I worked as a Youth Services Assistant Librarian for a few years at our local public library. It was a job made for me, helping kids find books for research and pleasure, planning programs that would be informational and entertaining, online shopping for puzzles, paperbacks, and parent/teacher resource books with someone else's money.

I loved that job. I loved that job so much that I wrote on my annual review that I would pay to have that job. The work made me happy in a way that laundry and diapers do not. And the people. I was paid to spend time with an amazing group of people who are passionate about learning and literature and children and all the things I am passionate about.

Then came Baby J. I made a difficult decision to leave my dream job to stay home with her, and there has not been one day that I have regretted that decision. But I do hope that one day I'll have the opportunity to work at the library again. And I pray that my children can find career paths that will fulfill them and give them happiness.

Tina Fey expressed my wish in her prayer, "A Mother's Prayer for It's Daughter" in her book, Bossypants.

Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes And not have to wear high heels.
What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You, because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit.

Enter Snowflake Bentley.

Link Snowflake Bentley, by Jacqueling Briggs Martin, is one of my favorite books. Perfect for January, this biography tells the true story of Willie Bentley, a young boy obsessed with capturing the beauty of snowflakes. He spent his life capturing the beauty of snowflakes with photography. He never got rich, never got famous. But I think he was happy.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday



--- 1 ---


I got Baby J some super cute legwarmers at American Eagle on clearance. No, American Eagle does not sell baby legwarmers, but they do sell wristlets or fingerless gloves that fit these chunky gams. See that hole in the pic? Technically, that's a thumb hole. I'll sew that shut in my spare time.

--- 2 ---


I spent a good part of my week folding laundry and watching Gods and Generals. It's very good. Very long, but very good. Peter will be going on an Civil War History trip this summer, and I think we will be watching lots of Civil War films in preparation. Gettysburg and Glory are on my list. I think we all need some history supplements around here.

Lucy watched Gods and Generals for a few minutes and then asked, "Which World War is this?"

Edmund kept asking, "Which guys are the bad guys?" "Well, they are all Americans." I tried to explain various reasons for secession... states' rights...Northern aggression...all of the things I learned in my "Southern" revisionist history classes in grade school. He kept asking me, "Yes, but who are the bad guys?" I explained that General Stonewall Jackson and General Robert E. Lee were good and prayerful men who desired the abolition of slavery in the Confederacy. I attempted to explain "Brother against brother." "But, Mom, who are the bad guys?"

"Fine! It's the South! I guess you could say the Rebels are the bad guys."

At which point, Lucy asked, "We won this? Didn't we?"

sigh.

--- 3 ---


With only one Downton Abbey episode a week now, I am so happy that White Collar is back. Cultured, criminal hottie, Neal Caffrey is one of tv's best dressed characters. But FBI agent, Peter Burke (played by Tim deKay) is the better played role, in my humble opinion. This show is 99% clean and my older three really like it. It's so nice when I can find a program we can watch as a family. The Chef is just not interested in Nineteen Kids and Counting.

--- 4 ---


I'm reading The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. I read three fourths of A Conspiracy of Kings, before I realized that it is the fourth in the series. No, this wasn't a "blonde" moment. No where on the book does it say it's the fourth one. I was riveted but very confused. The Thief is the first and a Newbery Honor book. I'm excited to find a new adventure series. This one reminds me of The Ranger's Apprentice books by John Flanagan, which I love.

--- 5 ---


The Chef and I are reading The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, aloud to Edmund. I have never read this before. I don't know why, since I adore both Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little. I have longed considered the following passage from Stuart Little to be the summation of all that is good in the sensory world.


"Henry Rackmeyer, you tell us what is important." "A shaft of sunlight at the end of a dark afternoon, a note in music, and the way the back of a baby's neck smells if its mother keeps it tidy," answered Henry. "Correct," said Stuart. "Those are the important things. You forgot one thing, though. Mary Bendix, what did Henry Rackmeyer forget?" "He forgot ice cream with chocolate sauce on it," said Mary quickly. "Exactly," said Stuart. "Ice cream is important."


--- 6 ---


The Chef and I both grew up with our parents reading aloud to us. The Chef's father read the children chapters of books such as The Hobbit, the Little House book, the Chronicles of Narnia, typically before bedtime, and usually stopping each night at a most exciting point. My mother read to us after dinner. She also read The Hobbit, and The Secret Garden (click here for a free audiobook), The Outlaws of Ravenhurst, and The Trumpeter of Krakow. Fortunately for me, she only stopped when the author ended a chapter.

I can still hear my mother's voice as she described the beautiful garden behind the wall.
--- 7 ---
Edmund's skating birthday party was an injury free success, Deo Gratias! And we'll be back on the ice tonight, snowstorm or not. Have a lovely weekend!
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Forethought: A Cautionary Tale



Below is the post I wrote yesterday, when my house was clean and I had a 6 lb. brisket braising in the oven. Keep reading to find out what happened next.

The secret to peace, happiness, and familial content is forethought. It took me over a decade to figure this out. If you can anticipate and prepare for what lies ahead, you can make it easier, better, and more relaxing.
Let me explain.

If I pack the lunches tonight, check to see if gym shoes are in the backpacks, uniforms are clean, there is some form of breakfast available (which might range from PW's egg-in-the-hole to leftover birthday cake and a glass of milk), and the car has some gas, tomorrow morning will go more smoothly. Of course, I can't anticipate the ice storm we may or may not get and the extra time it will take to chisel off the windshields. But I can have my pot of tea ready to be iced tonight.


If I plan a week's meals before I go to the grocery store, and not while I'm standing in front of the meat counter at Costco, we will eat well. I might get out of there without bankruptcy, and I may not need to run to the store every evening between 4 and 5 pm, which is always when everybody else is running to the store.


If I make the trek to the basement freezer tonight, to get the frozen chicken out for tomorrow, we might have dinner at a normal time. Which means that we might have time to do the dishes, as a family. And then we might have time to say evening prayer, as a family. If I remember to go to the freezer tonight.


Forethought. It sounds easy. The difficulty is you have to practice it all the time. You can never sit back and think, "There. That takes care of everything." Last I checked, people are at this very moment wearing clothes and getting them dirty, using the toiletries, and eating all of the groceries. That's ok, because I've planned for that.


Well, the recipe I was using for brisket is pretty good, but I had neglected to account for the fact that I was using a larger roast than called for. Also, I should have realized that the direction, "Put in a 350 degree oven for 2 1/2 to 4 hours, until fork tender." was a recipe for disaster.

We cook in a time warp. Banana bread can take up to 2 hours, but brownies can be done in 10 minutes. I put the brisket in the oven at 3pm.

At 6:45pm, The Chef began slicing the 4lb. salami I had gotten him for Christmas, and I consumed most of a delicious wedge of Fontina that I had been saving for a special occasion.

At 7:30pm, the children, still hungry after a massive cheese, salami, and cracker course, heated up plates of leftovers.

At 8pm, the brisket was indeed fork tender. It will be served tonight.

At 9:30 pm, it had cooled enough to be put back in the refrigerator from whence it came.

No one did any dinner dishes. No one packed any lunches. No one got the frozen chicken out the basement. There was no evening prayer.

This morning at 7:30am, which is departure time for Lucy and Edmund, Edmund was running around with one shoe.

We own four school sweatshirts. Three are missing. One is on Lucy. It is nine degrees today. Edmund is wearing a short sleeve uniform polo under his coat.

I have to go do the dinner dishes now.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Two books I don't recommend

Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier. Good read about time travel. Too bad the kids have to disparage the good-looking teacher and spread rumors that he's gay. (He's not, as far as I can tell.) And too bad our heroine had a bad kissing experience with a guy who kept giving her "love bites" so she had to wear a scarf all the time, and kept "trying to shove his hands in her bra." Also, why do all of the characters have to comment on breast size? Where is the romance? True love, anyone? I'm ever confirmed in my belief that my fourteen year old NEEDS to read the Anne of Green Gables series.

Annexed by Sharon Dogar. I read so many positive reviews of this book. Remember the Diary of Anne Frank? Well, this author creates a novel of the same historical facts and setting but told from Peter's point of view. Peter was the 16 year old boy whose family hid with the Franks in the same annex. Peter was the boy that Anne becomes friends with and eventually falls in love with.

Unfortunately, as part of this fictional account, the author thought young people would really want to read a detailed account of Peter's nocturnal emission and the dream he had that caused it. Chapter 3. That's where I stopped reading. The real Peter van Pels deserves more respect.

WHERE IS THE ROMANCE? I feel like Charlie Brown.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Helpful Hints

I keep my steel wool scrubbing pad in the freezer. That way it doesn't rust. And you know those plastic cups with corporate logos or Chuck E. Cheese or whatever, the ugly cups? That's what I keep my steel wool in, when it's in the freezer. Also, I cut the steel wool pads in half.


When using liquid laundry detergent, I don't like to get it on my hands. I have nowhere to put a sticky soapy dispensing cup since my laundry room is a dungeon. So, I throw the cup in the washer with the laundry. Problem solved. Of course, I have a back-up cup for when some helpful person changes the load and throws the cup in the dryer.



When towels or socks get that mildewed smell, or soiled potty training laundry has odors that do not go away, I use a cup of ammonia in the wash with the detergent. But NOT WITH BLEACH. Grade school science, people.



A glass scraper is my favorite cleaning tool. I just used it to scrape dried gooey gunk off of my refrigerator shelves. I cannot clean my stovetop without one. It's great for removing the carbon scoring. I learned this from those lovely British babes on How Clean Is Your House.





The Thermapen is one of my favorite cooking tools. The Chef and I use it for meat, fudge, grilling, bread making. I also use it to regulate Baby's bathwater. Lucy just used it to determine the temperature of ice cream for her science experiment. It's expensive but worth it. I've sent ours in for service too. They didn't come in all of those cool colors when we got ours.

You know those Star Wars cookies I made last week? If you break the ears off Yoda, he turns into Gollum. Weird. Go ahead. Hold your hands in front of the Yoda image I got from the web. See what I mean? I know this because I broke off the ears to give to the baby. Gollum is less fattening than Yoda.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday


--- 1 ---
Edmund brought his birthday treats to school on Tuesday, because going back to school in general was a big enough project for Monday.


Set me loose in a Williams-Sonoma store with a gift card, and who knows what I'll bring home. I have gotten quite a bit of use out of these cookie cutters. I have never managed to ice them like it shows on the box, I use colored sugars sprinkled on top.




--- 2 ---


I read about these in a ShopSmart magazine (which I like because it's like the Reader's Digest version of Consumer Reports). Then a friend told me she that her 13 year old son made dinner with one. You had me at "13 year old son made dinner."

They are good! And unlike other convenience food, the McCormick's Recipe Inspirations have no preservatives or fillers. You get the pre-measured spices and the back of the card tells you what else you need. You don't need canned condensed cream of anything to make them!

Peter made the Tuscan Chicken Stew on Tuesday. Lucy made the Chicken Marsala on Wednesday. Edmund made the Apple and Sage Pork Chops last night. All were easy to make and delicious. Tonight we are having the Asian Sesame Salmon. The Chef will have to make some risotto as a hearty side, because he is my pickiest eater and he won't eat fish.

--- 3 ---


This was my most recent Mom read. (A Mom read is a grown up book written for grown ups that I choose to read on my own for fun, as opposed to books about organizing, parenting, sainthood and other things that I struggle with, that I read for help.) The same friend who recommend the McCormick Recipe Inspirations recommended this book.

The Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet takes place in Seattle during WWII (my favorite time period) during the Japanese internment. The main character is the son of Chinese immigrants, whose best friends are a black saxophone player and a young girl of Japanese descent. Though-provoking enough to avoid fluffiness, but gentle enough not to shock or horrify (unlike so much adult fiction today), I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I even kept The Chef up way too late discussing it with him: what the internment must have been like, what we would do if we were facing something similar.

--- 4 ---



Our latest television obsession. After Baby J falls asleep, and the others are in their beds (for the most part), I like to work on my needlepoint and feel all proper while we watch Downton Abbey on Netflix. Oh, but alas. We have caught up to the current season and stayed up far too late on Wednesday eve to watch the Season 2 premiere. I blame Barefoot and Pregnant entirely.

--- 5 ---
Along with needlepoint, no I wasn't joking about that, we are beginning a Bridge Club. For playing bridge. You know, with cards? Like spades or hearts, but a billion times harder. I had a pre-Christmas brainstorm. Fearful that my husband's brain is deteriorating, seeing lots of forgetfulness, I purchased card table, chairs, bridge cards, tallies and the cheat sheet tablecloth.The Chef and I used to play all the time when we were first married. In fact, we created a Bridge for Three version that we played with his cousin, the Colonel. When he couldn't come over, we each bid two hands. We had no TV back then and we could remember stuff.

We played a few hands last weekend, and for some bizarre reason, I discovered that I crave gin and tonics when I'm counting my points. I don't even like gin and tonics. It has something to do with late summer nights in Michigan and short, sweaty glasses with a wedge of lime. I think I'm craving summer.

So we are back at the Bridge table. My grandmother is remarkably sharp for her age, and I think it has something to do with the seven bridge clubs she's in. And she plays Duplicate, which is to Bridge as Go Fish is to Spades.

--- 6 ---

In preparation for this weekend, I cleaned out the "Front Hall Closet." I bagged up all of the single mittens. (Why do I keep them?!) I finally put the lost dry cleaning away. The baseball hats have been weeded and put away for Spring. Yes, I know it's January, but it just started snowing today.

I have been putting off this kind of cleaning/organizing because I want to do the 40 Bags in 40 Days thing for Lent this year. I sort of long for Lent right now. Stale fudge has no hold over me. The Christmas decorations are starting to look dusty and need to be put away. My pants are too tight. You get the idea.

--- 7 ---



Tomorrow night, baby. Tonight's low of 4 degrees should put an end to the snarky remarks about the reflecting pool in my backyard. And just in the nick of time. I have been storming Heaven with prayers for a frozen rink. At least a dozen third grade boys are coming over tomorrow to celebrate Edmund's birthday and go skating. Now, if we could all petition the guardian angels to keep the boys' safe. Amen.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A is for Altar and Other Books for Baby

Baby J and I have been taking the "Babies and Books" class at the library. She's learned to clap, and I've learned that boys are COMPLETELY different from girls at every age. I didn't realize that at six months the boys would be throwing the toys and the girls would be eating them. I didn't know that boys and girls have different growth charts. (Our family physician doesn't do growth charts.) At 10-15 months, the boys are still throwing the shaker eggs at music time, but the girls are passing them out and collecting them again into the basket. I see future flight attendants. I always knew boys and girls are different. I guess I thought the differences really didn't kick in into toddler hood.


I've also been re-acquainted with baby books. Our copy of Pat the Bunny decayed years ago and none of our lift-the-flap books have any flaps left. All of the DK Touch and Feel books that Edmund loved are either tattered or lost.

So, Santa brought Baby J some new books. In addition to That's Not My Donkey, Santa picked up two boxed sets of board books at Costco.

I had been familiar with the humor of Sandra Boynton, since I worked in a library in high school. But I had forgotten about her silly books for small children until Babies and Books class. Now, we can read classics such as Moo, Baa, La La La! and Blue Hat, Green Hat at home. In Blue Hat, Green Hat, an elephant, a bear, and a moose are demonstrating where various clothing items go, and a turkey keeps getting it wrong. I love that turkey.



The Complete Karen Katz Collection includes four lift-the-flap books and four picture books. Her illustrations are charming, essential in a board book that I will have to read one thousand plus times.


While clearing some shelf space for all of Baby J's new books, I came across this treasure that was a gift from Nana and Papa a few years ago.


A is for Altar, B is for Bible does a wonderful job of naming the objects of the Mass for children as well as other nouns from the Church and the life of Christ. "X is at the end of Crucifix. I lay down my life for my sheep." I wish there were more books like this. Beautiful, approachable and true. We could use more literature like this for young Catholic children.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Expectation Management

And the winner is MJD Mom. I will be sending you the Happy Mama Hand to Toe Foaming Soap, the Angel Baby Shampoo and Body Wash, and the silk sock liners. Baby JJP is going to smell delicious! Now, for today's top story...

Expectation Management

In middle school, I ran for secretary in the Student Council elections. And I lost. And I was angry and bitter.

But then I grew up, and had kids, and suddenly my daughter was 7 years old and Irish dancing. Her teacher told me she was good enough to go to the National Championships in Nashville, Tennessee that summer. I was blown away. Having grown up with no athletic ability, or physical grace, it still amazes me that my children are good at this kind of stuff.

So began a whirlwind of travel, driving, spending, competing on an international scale, spending, driving, spending, making some lifelong friends, and learning some hard lessons about Expectation Management.

I learned that even though I can pay for all the lessons, pay for extra private lessons, pay for a stunning new costume and wig, drive to all the lessons, ensure at home practice time on a stage built in the basement, dress her, do her make-up, glue her socks on (yes, they glue their socks on), I couldn't dance for her. Not that I would be better. But, no matter how good I was at being the Irish Dance Mom, at the end of the day, what she won or lost was based on her and her alone. So, I learned to let go. I stopped feeling nauseous and losing sleep the night before competitions. I learned to look beyond today's competition.



And she learned how to win. How to be gracious when you do well and someone you know didn't. How to be encouraging. How to be humble.

And she learned how to lose. She learned how to see a disappointing score, and smile at the winner, and congratulate her. How not to blame the judge or the musician or the competitors or me. How to resolve to do it better next time.



She learned how to be friends with the National Champion because she's a nice kid and fun to hang out with, and how to never resent her for her crown. And how to be friends with all of the nice kids who never qualify for the big competitions, but they dance because they love it.



We used role play. Literally. I saw some very upset children at these things, and I didn't want that to be her. That doesn't mean we didn't get upset. We just didn't do it in ballrooms with hundreds of people. That's what the ride home is for. That's why God invented ice cream.




All of these lessons prepared her for middle school basketball. After having one team per grade for a few years, an influx of new students increased enrollment, thus necessitating the Dreaded A and B team. Of course, as her mother, I always thought she was good enough for the A team and those coaches are blind. But she didn't make the A team. And she was okay.

She ended up being the star of the B team. She played nearly every minute of every game. Sure, they lost them all, but she played, because she wanted to. She wanted to play basketball and she didn't care if all of her friends were on the A team, or if they never won a game. Well...that was disappointing. But what really bothered her was when her teammates wouldn't show up on time. Or at all. She was a Team Player. I was never more proud of her. Not even when she qualified for the World Championships of Irish Dance. Twice.

I've learned a lot too. I've learned that the B team is usually the best place to be. Superstars and Ball Hogs always make the A team. I've seen lots of talented players spend a game or a season on the bench with little to no playing time because they are the worst of the best. I think kids learn more on the B team when the pressure to win the Championship has been lifted. And sometimes they have more fun.

So, now I am applying all of these life lessons to play auditions.

Last year, my son got a decent part in the Fall Play. He loved it and he did really well. The director announced at the cast party that the Spring Musical would be the Hobbit. Immediately, Peter told the director that he wanted the lead. He wanted to play Bilbo. Did I mention that this was a musical? That my son had never sung publicly before? That he has never had voice lessons or even choir practice?

I tried to prepare him. I told him that it was highly unlikely that a Freshman would get the lead. I told him to prepare himself to receive a small part. Of course, as his mother, I thought he'd be great as the lead.

The day after auditions, he rubbed all of that in my face. He was cast as Bilbo. He accused me of not believing that he was good enough. That was never the case. I just wanted to prepare, to cushion the blow, to force him to entertain the thought that he might not get what he wanted. Because no one did that for me when I ran for Student Council. And it should not have been that big a deal.

So he sang and danced on stage. I was so proud! I sat in the second row, hugely pregnant, on the aisle, so as to have easy access to the nearest ladies' room, which is never near enough, at an all boys' school.

For his big solo, he came and stood in the aisle and looked at me and sang, "I Want To Go Home." I beamed. My sister-in-law says there wasn't a dry eye in the place.



I love that song. It's about when the journey has gone on long enough, Bilbo realizes he'd rather be where his greatest treasure is, home. I was so proud.

"Why did I come so far away? There's just one place I want to stay. I tried Adventure now I'll say I want to go home...Your life depends on what you're looking for and my quest ends inside my own front door. Some love to journey forth for gold. I guess I'm not that brave and bold...so I want to go home."

No, that's not him singing.

Then Susan, former Amazing Irish Dancer, had play auditions. She's a freshman. Her brother got the lead in his musical when he was a freshman. See where this could go? See the dark clouds of disappointment looming ahead?

Never fear! Well-adjusted, big-hearted Susan practiced her song, she auditioned for song and dance. She was cast as a Napkin in the upcoming performance of Beauty and the Beast and SHE WAS THRILLED! I am so proud of her.

And this week, Lucy is auditioning for a part in a musical produced by our local Catholic children's theater group. This group is the real deal, run by lots of professional theater and music people, really wonderful Catholic parents.

I'm so nervous. They won't cast everyone. She's never sung in public before. Of course, as her mother, I think she's amazing and should be given a fabulous role.

So we've discussed best and worst case scenarios. We've reviewed the facts, that there will be cuts, that she might not be cast, that there are some very talented kids auditioning. She's picked her song. I've helped download a karaoke version onto her ipod. I've encouraged her to practice, given her positive feedback. I've reminded her to smile, to sing loudly, to act out her song. I've filled out the forms and written the check and I'll get her there in plenty of time.

But at the end of the day, I can't sing it for her. I can only be there for her.
I will be so proud.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sitting on Tolkien's Desk

We took a family field trip on Saturday to the Wade Center at Wheaton College. Look at that blue sky! Look at it!


The Wade Center is home to a tiny yet incredible display of the artifacts of some very cool authors, like C. S. Lewis. That's his wardrobe. That's Edmund standing in front of it. You may recall that we just listened to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe on audio. We also just watched the Disney movie version.

On the way to the Wade Center, Edmund peppered us with endless questions about the Navy SEALS, of which the Chef and I know next to nothing. Not sure what this had to do with our field trip. But I cannot disassociate C.S. Lewis and Navy SEALS now.


Without any signs telling us not to touch the wardrobe...we touched it. It's full of coats! We touched those too. This warning is on the inside of the wardrobe door.

C. S. Lewis's grandfather MADE that wardrobe. He adzed it himself. I don't know what that means, but it's very cool and I want the Chef to make me one. But I won't hold my breath.


This is C.S. Lewis's desk and chair. They have the chair tied to the desk, so we didn't sit there, but of course we looked in the drawers to see the ink and paint stains. You can see his pen, his tea mug, tea pot, and pewter mug, but you can't touch them. They are behind glass. They also have nearly 2,500 of the books of his personal library complete with his handwritten notes in the margins, which you can touch if you need to, in the Reading Room.

In an alternate universe, I am working on a fantasy novel with Lewis and Tolkien as the main characters and I spend most of my time in the Wade Center Reading Room doing research. That's re-SEARCH, the British pronunciation, not RE-search. And I get to use Lewis's tea mug. And I get to wear Dorothy Sayers' eyeglasses, which are also on display. Have you read Dorothy Sayers? I have a major crush on Lord Peter Wimsey. You should read all about him. Start with Whose Body.


That's the High King Peter, who, after toting his 22 lb. baby sister around, decided to give it a rest right on J.R.R. Tolkien's desk. That's my baby on Tolkien's desk.

That's Susan fixing her French braid, behind him. She's very tall, and she's very proud of the fact that she can now French braid her own hair, cause the Lord gave me many gifts, but French braiding was not among them.

Peter pointed out that it's not a very big desk. It is the desk that Tolkien wrote, typed, and illustrated The Hobbit on though. He said so himself in a hand-written letter that's under the glass, under my baby's bum.

Every corner has a lovely display like this one. You can also see some of the props from the Disney movies The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Prince Caspian, including Nik-a-brik's sword, sheath, and dagger, which Edmund really liked, but couldn't touch.

When The Chef signed our names in the guest book, he noticed that we were two names below this guy.
He's Mark Coleridge, Archbishop of Canberra, Australia. He probably left when he saw us come in.

Did you know that Lewis's stepson, Douglas Gresham (son of Joy Gresham, and featured in the Lewis biographical movie, Shadowlands) has a cameo in each of the Disney movies? And that his kids' have cameos in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader? Very cool.


There are other authors represented in the Wade Center, including George Macdonald, who wrote The Princess and Curdie. Never read it, must change that. Also, Narnia and Hobbit illustrator, Pauline Baynes has a nice display as well.


That painting is not by Pauline Baynes. I followed all of the posted rules and did not use flash photography or take pictures of copyrighted material. If there was a rule about touching things or sitting on things, I didn't see it posted, and I'm sorry.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Friday Quick Takes



--- 1 ---


Some visual interest. Though this will never be a decorating blog, or an organizing blog, sometimes, I see real beauty in my home.


--- 2 ---

Last night for dinner, we had meatball sandwiches and hot dogs and sweet potato fries.And a salad. And the leftover cup of chili on the hot dogs. Go ahead and judge.

I read Megan Whalen Turner's The Thief. I got nervous around page 65/66, when one character asks another, "...do they really believe that?" referring to a creation story. Another character responds,

"...No, they don't believe that,...It's just religion. They like to go up to the temple on feast days and pretend that there is some god who wants worthless sacrificial bits of a cow, and people get to eat the rest. It's just an excuse to kill a cow."
But I shouldn't have been nervous. Those characters are in for a rude awakening.

The series is fascinating. Now you know why we had hot dogs for dinner last night.

--- 3 ---


Another pretty shot.

I got this wreath at Target. I've been looking for things that will stand out against the brown.
--- 4 ---
Most of you know that my husband, The Chef, is not actually a chef. He actually works with this guy.



And he works on this ongoing project.I've been watching it during "Laundry Folding Time," this week, but it's very difficult to keep folding, what with all the gorgeous footage and title screens and art. Lots of beautiful art. Makes me want to do my Rome semester all over again. Caravaggio. sigh.


Look at that bum.

I will be doing a Catholicism DVD Set Giveaway in February.
--- 5 ---
Yesterday, Baby J and I went to Babies and Books class at the library. For 30 minutes, we listen to stories, sing songs, clap our hands and play with shaker eggs. Baby J was there for all of five minutes, when she leaned over and yelled very loudly, "BEH!" in the neighboring baby's face. This caused screams followed by tears on the part of the other baby, and smiles and jazz hands on behalf of Baby J. I fear she may be a bully.



She's figuring out the whole crawling thing. She gets stuck under things and gets angry. Yesterday, she got her head stuck under the couch. I should have taken a picture of that.
--- 6 ---
Regarding Lucy. She did get a part in the play. A few smaller parts, that may or may not include solo song lines, and she gets to dance. She is a Napkin, in one song, which is wierd because Susan is also a Napkin in her school's production of Beauty and the Beast. I guess my girls are Napkin people. Napkins get to dance a lot too.
Also, regarding Lucy, we are hosting her entire class for a Half Birthday Ice Skating Party. I need prayers that we will have ice, and again, that there are no injuries.
I would never have dreamed of hosting a boy/girl party for Peter or Susan. Their classes were very different. Lucy is lucky that way. All the boys and girls are so nice and well-adjusted, with parents who care. I'm actually looking forward to this party.


--- 7 ---

Lastly, a special treat for you!





For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

How to be Sunny with Zero Sunshine

A few years ago, there was a February in Chicago with 18 minutes of sunshine. Eighteen minutes. In a month. There was also snow, sleet, freezing rain, or just regular rain at some point every single day. I called my beloved mother. I cried. And she ordered me some Uggs online.

My mom rocks.

But I've played that card. So, I've learned some other tricks to fight SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Wear bright colors. This was difficult last winter, when I was pregnant, and every maternity clothier from Target to A Pea in the Pod had winter lines featuring clothes in either black or dark grey. Gross. I did a little better at Old Navy where the scarf selection has never failed me, and at Boden, which began a maternity line just for me, it seemed.

I avoid wearing black. That being said, every one who lives in this city has a black coat, including me. But I'm looking for crimson, or cadet blue, or pink. Just haven't found it yet.

Turn on the lights! Turn on all the lights! It's freaking dark out there! Get the highest watt bulbs you can. Try to find bulbs that are below 5000K to avoid cold, bluish lights.

Light some candles. If I can't have the sun, I like to have scented mini suns glowing around the house. A scented candle changes the mood from gloomy to cozy. I love pumpkin, citrus or cinnamon scents. Find your favorite flavors and stock up. Target doesn't carry pumpkin scented candles much past November, as I have learned the hard way.

Use aromatherapy on your person. There's a reason my hand soap and my body wash are citrus scents. They remind me that summer will come again.


I don't often wear perfume, but when I do, it's usually Sugar Lemon from Fresh. Pioneer Woman introduced us, and it was love at first sniff.

Last year, desperate to use the $3.50 off a $10 purchase coupon for Ulta that did not include Bare Minerals or any of the other stuff I regularly purchase there, I found these OPI lotions in a six pack.
Lord knows, we go through a lot of hand lotion here. Hand lotion and lip balm.

But dressing in bright colors, turning on the lights and wearing scented lotion are a lot like taking a Tylenol when you have a broken bone. It's only going to help a little bit for a little while.

What really works against the winter doldrums is that bad word: exercise.

Walk in the mall.
Walk outside with these on.
Ice skate on a homemade rink in your backyard, or at the local flooded tennis courts.
Take a Zumba class.
Get Wii Fit.
Get a dog.
Get your butt moving.
Because nothing else is going to release the endorphins you need to stay sane.
Not even Chardonnay. Not even chocolate. Believe me, I've tried.

It is also important to have good friends.

Like the friend who will meet you at the mall at 9am in the freezing rain, and walk with you, and sit with you and chat when the baby has to nurse, and doesn't let you stop at Cinnabon for breakfast, but gently guides you toward the Subway.

Or the friend who will take turns holding said baby, when Baby has had it with the stroller. She is the friend who will listen to you cry on the phone about something stupid, like carpool, or whether or not your kid got to say a petition at the all-school Mass and then ask, "Wanna go for a walk?"

Friends like these are priceless. They are also necessary for those bitter, bitter cold days when you need to go out to lunch someplace fabulous, just to remind you that there are still fabulous places in the world.

And as a last resort, I fight the winter blues with an annual or bi-annual trip to someplace warm and sunny. Even a weekend with friends and their families in the Wisconsin Dells can do a lot to boost a girl's spirits. Plus, they have that wave pool with an indoor fake heated beach and umbrella drinks at the Great Wolf Lodge. Think you might be self-conscious in a bathing suit in February in the Dells? Think again. This is Wisconsin. Land of Cheese. They're not getting any sunshine either.

Can't afford a trip? No extra vacation days this year? Plan something else. Book Club, Dinner Club, Birthday Party, Half Birthday Party, Lia Sophia Party, Girls' Night Out, Trivial Pursuit Night. Planning things can help the longest season of the North pass more pleasantly.

Or you could always start a blog and act like you're an authority on things that other people take for granted. That works too.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

This Hurts Me More Than It Hurts You

I know you don't believe me, but truly, it would be so much easier for me to sort your dirty laundry for you.

But then you would never learn responsibility.

It would be so much easier for me to do the dinner dishes by myself, in complete blissful silence, and there would be the added benefit of actually having clean dishes and clean counters in the morning.

But then you would never learn diligence and perseverance.

It would be so much easier for me to let you go skating, even though you were disrespectful to me.

But then you would never learn respect. Or that I mean what I say.

It would be so much easier to let you off the hook when you told me that you didn't "really" have any homework, when you actually did "really" have homework.

But then you would never learn honesty.

It would be so much easier for me to say "Yes, you can go see any rated PG-13 thriller." without having to do online research, or let you manage your own i-Tunes account, without checking.

But then you would never know how much I care about your innocence.

It would be so much easier for me to let you wear that shirt, or that make-up, or that bathing suit.

But then you would never learn modesty. Or how much I care about your true beauty.

It would be so much easier if I could have a peaceful afternoon and let you play Poptropica for hours.

Believe me. It hurts me more than it hurts you.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Career Paths and Snowflake Bentley

I worked as a Youth Services Assistant Librarian for a few years at our local public library. It was a job made for me, helping kids find books for research and pleasure, planning programs that would be informational and entertaining, online shopping for puzzles, paperbacks, and parent/teacher resource books with someone else's money.

I loved that job. I loved that job so much that I wrote on my annual review that I would pay to have that job. The work made me happy in a way that laundry and diapers do not. And the people. I was paid to spend time with an amazing group of people who are passionate about learning and literature and children and all the things I am passionate about.

Then came Baby J. I made a difficult decision to leave my dream job to stay home with her, and there has not been one day that I have regretted that decision. But I do hope that one day I'll have the opportunity to work at the library again. And I pray that my children can find career paths that will fulfill them and give them happiness.

Tina Fey expressed my wish in her prayer, "A Mother's Prayer for It's Daughter" in her book, Bossypants.

Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes And not have to wear high heels.
What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You, because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit.

Enter Snowflake Bentley.

Link Snowflake Bentley, by Jacqueling Briggs Martin, is one of my favorite books. Perfect for January, this biography tells the true story of Willie Bentley, a young boy obsessed with capturing the beauty of snowflakes. He spent his life capturing the beauty of snowflakes with photography. He never got rich, never got famous. But I think he was happy.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday



--- 1 ---


I got Baby J some super cute legwarmers at American Eagle on clearance. No, American Eagle does not sell baby legwarmers, but they do sell wristlets or fingerless gloves that fit these chunky gams. See that hole in the pic? Technically, that's a thumb hole. I'll sew that shut in my spare time.

--- 2 ---


I spent a good part of my week folding laundry and watching Gods and Generals. It's very good. Very long, but very good. Peter will be going on an Civil War History trip this summer, and I think we will be watching lots of Civil War films in preparation. Gettysburg and Glory are on my list. I think we all need some history supplements around here.

Lucy watched Gods and Generals for a few minutes and then asked, "Which World War is this?"

Edmund kept asking, "Which guys are the bad guys?" "Well, they are all Americans." I tried to explain various reasons for secession... states' rights...Northern aggression...all of the things I learned in my "Southern" revisionist history classes in grade school. He kept asking me, "Yes, but who are the bad guys?" I explained that General Stonewall Jackson and General Robert E. Lee were good and prayerful men who desired the abolition of slavery in the Confederacy. I attempted to explain "Brother against brother." "But, Mom, who are the bad guys?"

"Fine! It's the South! I guess you could say the Rebels are the bad guys."

At which point, Lucy asked, "We won this? Didn't we?"

sigh.

--- 3 ---


With only one Downton Abbey episode a week now, I am so happy that White Collar is back. Cultured, criminal hottie, Neal Caffrey is one of tv's best dressed characters. But FBI agent, Peter Burke (played by Tim deKay) is the better played role, in my humble opinion. This show is 99% clean and my older three really like it. It's so nice when I can find a program we can watch as a family. The Chef is just not interested in Nineteen Kids and Counting.

--- 4 ---


I'm reading The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. I read three fourths of A Conspiracy of Kings, before I realized that it is the fourth in the series. No, this wasn't a "blonde" moment. No where on the book does it say it's the fourth one. I was riveted but very confused. The Thief is the first and a Newbery Honor book. I'm excited to find a new adventure series. This one reminds me of The Ranger's Apprentice books by John Flanagan, which I love.

--- 5 ---


The Chef and I are reading The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, aloud to Edmund. I have never read this before. I don't know why, since I adore both Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little. I have longed considered the following passage from Stuart Little to be the summation of all that is good in the sensory world.


"Henry Rackmeyer, you tell us what is important." "A shaft of sunlight at the end of a dark afternoon, a note in music, and the way the back of a baby's neck smells if its mother keeps it tidy," answered Henry. "Correct," said Stuart. "Those are the important things. You forgot one thing, though. Mary Bendix, what did Henry Rackmeyer forget?" "He forgot ice cream with chocolate sauce on it," said Mary quickly. "Exactly," said Stuart. "Ice cream is important."


--- 6 ---


The Chef and I both grew up with our parents reading aloud to us. The Chef's father read the children chapters of books such as The Hobbit, the Little House book, the Chronicles of Narnia, typically before bedtime, and usually stopping each night at a most exciting point. My mother read to us after dinner. She also read The Hobbit, and The Secret Garden (click here for a free audiobook), The Outlaws of Ravenhurst, and The Trumpeter of Krakow. Fortunately for me, she only stopped when the author ended a chapter.

I can still hear my mother's voice as she described the beautiful garden behind the wall.
--- 7 ---
Edmund's skating birthday party was an injury free success, Deo Gratias! And we'll be back on the ice tonight, snowstorm or not. Have a lovely weekend!
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Forethought: A Cautionary Tale



Below is the post I wrote yesterday, when my house was clean and I had a 6 lb. brisket braising in the oven. Keep reading to find out what happened next.

The secret to peace, happiness, and familial content is forethought. It took me over a decade to figure this out. If you can anticipate and prepare for what lies ahead, you can make it easier, better, and more relaxing.
Let me explain.

If I pack the lunches tonight, check to see if gym shoes are in the backpacks, uniforms are clean, there is some form of breakfast available (which might range from PW's egg-in-the-hole to leftover birthday cake and a glass of milk), and the car has some gas, tomorrow morning will go more smoothly. Of course, I can't anticipate the ice storm we may or may not get and the extra time it will take to chisel off the windshields. But I can have my pot of tea ready to be iced tonight.


If I plan a week's meals before I go to the grocery store, and not while I'm standing in front of the meat counter at Costco, we will eat well. I might get out of there without bankruptcy, and I may not need to run to the store every evening between 4 and 5 pm, which is always when everybody else is running to the store.


If I make the trek to the basement freezer tonight, to get the frozen chicken out for tomorrow, we might have dinner at a normal time. Which means that we might have time to do the dishes, as a family. And then we might have time to say evening prayer, as a family. If I remember to go to the freezer tonight.


Forethought. It sounds easy. The difficulty is you have to practice it all the time. You can never sit back and think, "There. That takes care of everything." Last I checked, people are at this very moment wearing clothes and getting them dirty, using the toiletries, and eating all of the groceries. That's ok, because I've planned for that.


Well, the recipe I was using for brisket is pretty good, but I had neglected to account for the fact that I was using a larger roast than called for. Also, I should have realized that the direction, "Put in a 350 degree oven for 2 1/2 to 4 hours, until fork tender." was a recipe for disaster.

We cook in a time warp. Banana bread can take up to 2 hours, but brownies can be done in 10 minutes. I put the brisket in the oven at 3pm.

At 6:45pm, The Chef began slicing the 4lb. salami I had gotten him for Christmas, and I consumed most of a delicious wedge of Fontina that I had been saving for a special occasion.

At 7:30pm, the children, still hungry after a massive cheese, salami, and cracker course, heated up plates of leftovers.

At 8pm, the brisket was indeed fork tender. It will be served tonight.

At 9:30 pm, it had cooled enough to be put back in the refrigerator from whence it came.

No one did any dinner dishes. No one packed any lunches. No one got the frozen chicken out the basement. There was no evening prayer.

This morning at 7:30am, which is departure time for Lucy and Edmund, Edmund was running around with one shoe.

We own four school sweatshirts. Three are missing. One is on Lucy. It is nine degrees today. Edmund is wearing a short sleeve uniform polo under his coat.

I have to go do the dinner dishes now.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Two books I don't recommend

Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier. Good read about time travel. Too bad the kids have to disparage the good-looking teacher and spread rumors that he's gay. (He's not, as far as I can tell.) And too bad our heroine had a bad kissing experience with a guy who kept giving her "love bites" so she had to wear a scarf all the time, and kept "trying to shove his hands in her bra." Also, why do all of the characters have to comment on breast size? Where is the romance? True love, anyone? I'm ever confirmed in my belief that my fourteen year old NEEDS to read the Anne of Green Gables series.

Annexed by Sharon Dogar. I read so many positive reviews of this book. Remember the Diary of Anne Frank? Well, this author creates a novel of the same historical facts and setting but told from Peter's point of view. Peter was the 16 year old boy whose family hid with the Franks in the same annex. Peter was the boy that Anne becomes friends with and eventually falls in love with.

Unfortunately, as part of this fictional account, the author thought young people would really want to read a detailed account of Peter's nocturnal emission and the dream he had that caused it. Chapter 3. That's where I stopped reading. The real Peter van Pels deserves more respect.

WHERE IS THE ROMANCE? I feel like Charlie Brown.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Helpful Hints

I keep my steel wool scrubbing pad in the freezer. That way it doesn't rust. And you know those plastic cups with corporate logos or Chuck E. Cheese or whatever, the ugly cups? That's what I keep my steel wool in, when it's in the freezer. Also, I cut the steel wool pads in half.


When using liquid laundry detergent, I don't like to get it on my hands. I have nowhere to put a sticky soapy dispensing cup since my laundry room is a dungeon. So, I throw the cup in the washer with the laundry. Problem solved. Of course, I have a back-up cup for when some helpful person changes the load and throws the cup in the dryer.



When towels or socks get that mildewed smell, or soiled potty training laundry has odors that do not go away, I use a cup of ammonia in the wash with the detergent. But NOT WITH BLEACH. Grade school science, people.



A glass scraper is my favorite cleaning tool. I just used it to scrape dried gooey gunk off of my refrigerator shelves. I cannot clean my stovetop without one. It's great for removing the carbon scoring. I learned this from those lovely British babes on How Clean Is Your House.





The Thermapen is one of my favorite cooking tools. The Chef and I use it for meat, fudge, grilling, bread making. I also use it to regulate Baby's bathwater. Lucy just used it to determine the temperature of ice cream for her science experiment. It's expensive but worth it. I've sent ours in for service too. They didn't come in all of those cool colors when we got ours.

You know those Star Wars cookies I made last week? If you break the ears off Yoda, he turns into Gollum. Weird. Go ahead. Hold your hands in front of the Yoda image I got from the web. See what I mean? I know this because I broke off the ears to give to the baby. Gollum is less fattening than Yoda.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday


--- 1 ---
Edmund brought his birthday treats to school on Tuesday, because going back to school in general was a big enough project for Monday.


Set me loose in a Williams-Sonoma store with a gift card, and who knows what I'll bring home. I have gotten quite a bit of use out of these cookie cutters. I have never managed to ice them like it shows on the box, I use colored sugars sprinkled on top.




--- 2 ---


I read about these in a ShopSmart magazine (which I like because it's like the Reader's Digest version of Consumer Reports). Then a friend told me she that her 13 year old son made dinner with one. You had me at "13 year old son made dinner."

They are good! And unlike other convenience food, the McCormick's Recipe Inspirations have no preservatives or fillers. You get the pre-measured spices and the back of the card tells you what else you need. You don't need canned condensed cream of anything to make them!

Peter made the Tuscan Chicken Stew on Tuesday. Lucy made the Chicken Marsala on Wednesday. Edmund made the Apple and Sage Pork Chops last night. All were easy to make and delicious. Tonight we are having the Asian Sesame Salmon. The Chef will have to make some risotto as a hearty side, because he is my pickiest eater and he won't eat fish.

--- 3 ---


This was my most recent Mom read. (A Mom read is a grown up book written for grown ups that I choose to read on my own for fun, as opposed to books about organizing, parenting, sainthood and other things that I struggle with, that I read for help.) The same friend who recommend the McCormick Recipe Inspirations recommended this book.

The Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet takes place in Seattle during WWII (my favorite time period) during the Japanese internment. The main character is the son of Chinese immigrants, whose best friends are a black saxophone player and a young girl of Japanese descent. Though-provoking enough to avoid fluffiness, but gentle enough not to shock or horrify (unlike so much adult fiction today), I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I even kept The Chef up way too late discussing it with him: what the internment must have been like, what we would do if we were facing something similar.

--- 4 ---



Our latest television obsession. After Baby J falls asleep, and the others are in their beds (for the most part), I like to work on my needlepoint and feel all proper while we watch Downton Abbey on Netflix. Oh, but alas. We have caught up to the current season and stayed up far too late on Wednesday eve to watch the Season 2 premiere. I blame Barefoot and Pregnant entirely.

--- 5 ---
Along with needlepoint, no I wasn't joking about that, we are beginning a Bridge Club. For playing bridge. You know, with cards? Like spades or hearts, but a billion times harder. I had a pre-Christmas brainstorm. Fearful that my husband's brain is deteriorating, seeing lots of forgetfulness, I purchased card table, chairs, bridge cards, tallies and the cheat sheet tablecloth.The Chef and I used to play all the time when we were first married. In fact, we created a Bridge for Three version that we played with his cousin, the Colonel. When he couldn't come over, we each bid two hands. We had no TV back then and we could remember stuff.

We played a few hands last weekend, and for some bizarre reason, I discovered that I crave gin and tonics when I'm counting my points. I don't even like gin and tonics. It has something to do with late summer nights in Michigan and short, sweaty glasses with a wedge of lime. I think I'm craving summer.

So we are back at the Bridge table. My grandmother is remarkably sharp for her age, and I think it has something to do with the seven bridge clubs she's in. And she plays Duplicate, which is to Bridge as Go Fish is to Spades.

--- 6 ---

In preparation for this weekend, I cleaned out the "Front Hall Closet." I bagged up all of the single mittens. (Why do I keep them?!) I finally put the lost dry cleaning away. The baseball hats have been weeded and put away for Spring. Yes, I know it's January, but it just started snowing today.

I have been putting off this kind of cleaning/organizing because I want to do the 40 Bags in 40 Days thing for Lent this year. I sort of long for Lent right now. Stale fudge has no hold over me. The Christmas decorations are starting to look dusty and need to be put away. My pants are too tight. You get the idea.

--- 7 ---



Tomorrow night, baby. Tonight's low of 4 degrees should put an end to the snarky remarks about the reflecting pool in my backyard. And just in the nick of time. I have been storming Heaven with prayers for a frozen rink. At least a dozen third grade boys are coming over tomorrow to celebrate Edmund's birthday and go skating. Now, if we could all petition the guardian angels to keep the boys' safe. Amen.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A is for Altar and Other Books for Baby

Baby J and I have been taking the "Babies and Books" class at the library. She's learned to clap, and I've learned that boys are COMPLETELY different from girls at every age. I didn't realize that at six months the boys would be throwing the toys and the girls would be eating them. I didn't know that boys and girls have different growth charts. (Our family physician doesn't do growth charts.) At 10-15 months, the boys are still throwing the shaker eggs at music time, but the girls are passing them out and collecting them again into the basket. I see future flight attendants. I always knew boys and girls are different. I guess I thought the differences really didn't kick in into toddler hood.


I've also been re-acquainted with baby books. Our copy of Pat the Bunny decayed years ago and none of our lift-the-flap books have any flaps left. All of the DK Touch and Feel books that Edmund loved are either tattered or lost.

So, Santa brought Baby J some new books. In addition to That's Not My Donkey, Santa picked up two boxed sets of board books at Costco.

I had been familiar with the humor of Sandra Boynton, since I worked in a library in high school. But I had forgotten about her silly books for small children until Babies and Books class. Now, we can read classics such as Moo, Baa, La La La! and Blue Hat, Green Hat at home. In Blue Hat, Green Hat, an elephant, a bear, and a moose are demonstrating where various clothing items go, and a turkey keeps getting it wrong. I love that turkey.



The Complete Karen Katz Collection includes four lift-the-flap books and four picture books. Her illustrations are charming, essential in a board book that I will have to read one thousand plus times.


While clearing some shelf space for all of Baby J's new books, I came across this treasure that was a gift from Nana and Papa a few years ago.


A is for Altar, B is for Bible does a wonderful job of naming the objects of the Mass for children as well as other nouns from the Church and the life of Christ. "X is at the end of Crucifix. I lay down my life for my sheep." I wish there were more books like this. Beautiful, approachable and true. We could use more literature like this for young Catholic children.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Expectation Management

And the winner is MJD Mom. I will be sending you the Happy Mama Hand to Toe Foaming Soap, the Angel Baby Shampoo and Body Wash, and the silk sock liners. Baby JJP is going to smell delicious! Now, for today's top story...

Expectation Management

In middle school, I ran for secretary in the Student Council elections. And I lost. And I was angry and bitter.

But then I grew up, and had kids, and suddenly my daughter was 7 years old and Irish dancing. Her teacher told me she was good enough to go to the National Championships in Nashville, Tennessee that summer. I was blown away. Having grown up with no athletic ability, or physical grace, it still amazes me that my children are good at this kind of stuff.

So began a whirlwind of travel, driving, spending, competing on an international scale, spending, driving, spending, making some lifelong friends, and learning some hard lessons about Expectation Management.

I learned that even though I can pay for all the lessons, pay for extra private lessons, pay for a stunning new costume and wig, drive to all the lessons, ensure at home practice time on a stage built in the basement, dress her, do her make-up, glue her socks on (yes, they glue their socks on), I couldn't dance for her. Not that I would be better. But, no matter how good I was at being the Irish Dance Mom, at the end of the day, what she won or lost was based on her and her alone. So, I learned to let go. I stopped feeling nauseous and losing sleep the night before competitions. I learned to look beyond today's competition.



And she learned how to win. How to be gracious when you do well and someone you know didn't. How to be encouraging. How to be humble.

And she learned how to lose. She learned how to see a disappointing score, and smile at the winner, and congratulate her. How not to blame the judge or the musician or the competitors or me. How to resolve to do it better next time.



She learned how to be friends with the National Champion because she's a nice kid and fun to hang out with, and how to never resent her for her crown. And how to be friends with all of the nice kids who never qualify for the big competitions, but they dance because they love it.



We used role play. Literally. I saw some very upset children at these things, and I didn't want that to be her. That doesn't mean we didn't get upset. We just didn't do it in ballrooms with hundreds of people. That's what the ride home is for. That's why God invented ice cream.




All of these lessons prepared her for middle school basketball. After having one team per grade for a few years, an influx of new students increased enrollment, thus necessitating the Dreaded A and B team. Of course, as her mother, I always thought she was good enough for the A team and those coaches are blind. But she didn't make the A team. And she was okay.

She ended up being the star of the B team. She played nearly every minute of every game. Sure, they lost them all, but she played, because she wanted to. She wanted to play basketball and she didn't care if all of her friends were on the A team, or if they never won a game. Well...that was disappointing. But what really bothered her was when her teammates wouldn't show up on time. Or at all. She was a Team Player. I was never more proud of her. Not even when she qualified for the World Championships of Irish Dance. Twice.

I've learned a lot too. I've learned that the B team is usually the best place to be. Superstars and Ball Hogs always make the A team. I've seen lots of talented players spend a game or a season on the bench with little to no playing time because they are the worst of the best. I think kids learn more on the B team when the pressure to win the Championship has been lifted. And sometimes they have more fun.

So, now I am applying all of these life lessons to play auditions.

Last year, my son got a decent part in the Fall Play. He loved it and he did really well. The director announced at the cast party that the Spring Musical would be the Hobbit. Immediately, Peter told the director that he wanted the lead. He wanted to play Bilbo. Did I mention that this was a musical? That my son had never sung publicly before? That he has never had voice lessons or even choir practice?

I tried to prepare him. I told him that it was highly unlikely that a Freshman would get the lead. I told him to prepare himself to receive a small part. Of course, as his mother, I thought he'd be great as the lead.

The day after auditions, he rubbed all of that in my face. He was cast as Bilbo. He accused me of not believing that he was good enough. That was never the case. I just wanted to prepare, to cushion the blow, to force him to entertain the thought that he might not get what he wanted. Because no one did that for me when I ran for Student Council. And it should not have been that big a deal.

So he sang and danced on stage. I was so proud! I sat in the second row, hugely pregnant, on the aisle, so as to have easy access to the nearest ladies' room, which is never near enough, at an all boys' school.

For his big solo, he came and stood in the aisle and looked at me and sang, "I Want To Go Home." I beamed. My sister-in-law says there wasn't a dry eye in the place.



I love that song. It's about when the journey has gone on long enough, Bilbo realizes he'd rather be where his greatest treasure is, home. I was so proud.

"Why did I come so far away? There's just one place I want to stay. I tried Adventure now I'll say I want to go home...Your life depends on what you're looking for and my quest ends inside my own front door. Some love to journey forth for gold. I guess I'm not that brave and bold...so I want to go home."

No, that's not him singing.

Then Susan, former Amazing Irish Dancer, had play auditions. She's a freshman. Her brother got the lead in his musical when he was a freshman. See where this could go? See the dark clouds of disappointment looming ahead?

Never fear! Well-adjusted, big-hearted Susan practiced her song, she auditioned for song and dance. She was cast as a Napkin in the upcoming performance of Beauty and the Beast and SHE WAS THRILLED! I am so proud of her.

And this week, Lucy is auditioning for a part in a musical produced by our local Catholic children's theater group. This group is the real deal, run by lots of professional theater and music people, really wonderful Catholic parents.

I'm so nervous. They won't cast everyone. She's never sung in public before. Of course, as her mother, I think she's amazing and should be given a fabulous role.

So we've discussed best and worst case scenarios. We've reviewed the facts, that there will be cuts, that she might not be cast, that there are some very talented kids auditioning. She's picked her song. I've helped download a karaoke version onto her ipod. I've encouraged her to practice, given her positive feedback. I've reminded her to smile, to sing loudly, to act out her song. I've filled out the forms and written the check and I'll get her there in plenty of time.

But at the end of the day, I can't sing it for her. I can only be there for her.
I will be so proud.