Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Follow Up Photos

How are the room transformations going, you ask? We're almost done with all the sorting and moving; there's still one desk in the hallway. Lauren's room has undergone the biggest change. She painted it a lovely blue (which doesn't show up well here) and stencilled glossy black medallions on one wall. Len painted the ceiling, too, which really helped freshen things up. Note the coordinating (not matchy-matchy) comforter set.

Len has planted basil and parsley, and the chives are about to blossom. Here they are on the way. A fully open flower looks like a purple pom-pom. The blossoms are edible (but with a sharper onion-garlic flavor than the stems), and also last a long time in a vase. I'll get another photo when full bloom has been achieved.

Marianna's cutting garden was planted this weekend. Note the tiniest of brick pathways, leaving plenty of room for flowers. This is not a very sunny part of the yard, but hopefully she'll have some success anyway. Of course, the full anti-deer fence has also been installed.

First Communions

I've got all kinds of post ideas running through my head, but Marianna's First Holy Communion is this Saturday, so computer time is not a priority. Meanwhile, Anne wrote a nice post about my trip to Michigan for Emma's FHC.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Magnificat by John Michael Talbot

Youtube isn't working at our house, but Anne has given me access to post this beautiful meditation. I'm here in breezy Michigan for Emma (my goddaughter)'s First Holy Communion tomorrow. Thank you, Anne!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

So, How Was Mass With the Pope?

Well, it wasn't quite what I expected.

We got up very early, and were out the door by 5:15 a.m. When we got to the Metro station there was abundant parking, and plenty of staff, too. Metro did a great job (coming and going). Even at the transfer station, even during the morning rush with worshippers and commuters sharing the system, it was efficient.

We got to the stadium with LOTS of time to spare. Our seats were way up high, actually against the back fence. The sun is bright in this picture, but by mass time the sun had risen enough to shade us.
Yes, WAY up high!Security was tight, but not really obvious. It took a while for us to notice the snipers.

There were several choirs singing before mass. They seemed very talented. I say seemed, because we could hear the music, but not much of the singing. This is when we began to realize that something was amiss: the speakers were not functioning in our section. We were hearing the echoes from the main level. Unfortunately, they were never fixed, so we did not hear the mass, sermon, announcements--ZIP!
As much as I wanted to see Pope Benedict XVI, I was just as excited to have the chance to worship with 46,000 fellow Catholics. But without hearing the readings, prayers, or songs, I just didn't feel a part of it. Of course, we did participate (We know how mass goes, after all.), and we received Communion and the Pope's blessing, but it was a HUGE disappointment. We were there for hours, and didn't hear anything but echoes.
Even while we were there I began working on my personal damage control. The idea that helped me the most was Purgatory. Bear with me. I've tried several ways to explain Purgatory to my children. They get that whole "cleaning up your soul so you can be in Heaven" bit, but sometimes it doesn't sound like a great place to be. I've pointed out that it's GOOD because you know you're going to Heaven sooner or later--it's just a place of yearning. Like if you walk into the house and smell cookies baking but you can't have them. There's something you want very much, and you know how good it is, but you can't have it yet. That's my humble comparison to yearning to be in God's presence when I'm not quite ready.

So that was how I tried to console myself in the stadium. I thought about how much I wanted to participate fully and be a part of the mass and the crowd of worshippers. I could imagine what I missing, but couldn't have it. That yearning made me think of Purgatory. Yes, I know the real thing will be more intense, but that's what I came up with. I am very proud of my children. They got up early and waited a long time and then couldn't hear, but they did not complain. They were so good about the whole thing!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Adventures in Freezing (Dinner)

I didn't start shopping there until we became a family of eight, but I now buy my chicken at Costco. That means 30 boneless, skinless thighs or 12 gi-normous boneless breasts per package. The chidren like dark meat, and Len prefers light, so to achieve the ideal ratio I found myself the proud owner of 72 pieces of chicken. Whew!

Over the years I've gathered a repetoire of marinade recipes. With enough chicken for six freezer bags, I decided to make three varieties. That sounds like a lot of work, but one flavor this time was Good Seasons Italian dressing--vinegar (red wine or balsamic), water, mix, oil, done!

I set up an assembly line. The one-gallon freezer bags rested in plastic containers waiting to be filled with marinade. I'll post recipes for our favorites on my cooking blog: honey-mustard, Asian (hoisin), Asian (soy-orange), and Indian yogurt.

Since I've started combining thighs and breasts, I began using a trick of my sister's. I pound the chicken breasts so they'll cook more quickly on the grill; this has the added benefit of more marinade flavor per bite, although I consider this step optional. The chicken goes into the bags, held upright by their containers (See them in the background?).

I rinsed the remaining chicken in the clean sink. Now a helper was needed to steady each bag as it was filled. Then it was time to squeeze out the air, seal, and lay the bags flat to freeze. Once the chicken is frozen, the baking sheets can go back into circulation.
If I know ahead of time that grilled chicken is on the menu, I remove a bag a day ahead to thaw in the refrigerator (on some sort of protection in case there's a hole!). In a pinch, a flattened bag will thaw quickly in a sink full of warm (or hot, if you're desperate) water.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Guess Where We'll Be Tomorrow?

Along with 45,993 others--at the Papal Mass at National's Stadium. We entered our parish's lottery and wound up with seven tickets! Rebecca is spending tonight and tomorrow at Grammy and Grandpop's house, and the rest of us will be heading for the metro EARLY.

I'll be praying for you and your intentions.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


One of my favorite spring traditions is visiting the bluebells at Bull Run Park. Sometimes the whole family goes, but today it was just us homeschoolers. It was sunny but cool, a nice day to walk. The trail is easy but muddy (bluebells grow near creeks and flood plains), so we all wore boots (a lesson learned by experience!). My youngest blossoms:
I think I read somewhere (Please don't expect me to actually look it up; it's past my bedtime!) that this park has the largest stand of bluebells east of the Mississippi. Some years the blue haze seems to go on forever.

But it's not just about the flowers, of course. Flood and mud are part of the attraction!

Not that it's actually important to keep the water below the top of your boots! (We met friends at the park, and I must say that Joe was NOT the wettest child by the end of the outing, and MANY boots were filled up and poured out.)
Of course, life's not all rainbows and butterflies--Mom was a bit rough getting everyone packed up and out the door. There was some aggravation and yelling going on among the siblings, even at the park. But after the first hour, we all really did relax and enjoy our time together. That transforming power is just one of the wonders of God's beautiful creation. Happy spring!

Returning Friends

"Make new friends, but keep the old: one is silver, and the other's gold." I sang this countless times around Girl Scout campfires, and today it's reminding me of our herbs. We grow them right outside the front door where the light is bright and I'm most likely to remember to water them. ;-)

Every year we start parsley (for us and the Eastern black swallowtail caterpillars) and basil (for tomato salad and pesto) from seed. But before either is even planted, I have the excitement of welcoming my "gold" friends back.

Chives have a mild onion-garlic flavor that makes them a great sprinkle on potatoes or in pasta/rice/pilaf type side dishes, or with eggs. I just snip a handful, rinse, then snip or chop. They're so reliable and prolific that I've downsized from 4 clumps to 2, and last year was still able to divide and give some away to other gardeners. Here in Virginia they grow from spring through fall. Chive blossoms look like purple pom-poms, and last a long time in a vase; I'll try to remember to post a picture when they appear. We have peppermint and spearmint growing in separate corners. I hear tales of mint taking over gardens, but ours is enclosed by the house and sidewalk, so it has not been hard to control. I am actually not a huge mint fan, but we do like it in iced tea, and it's fun to casually munch on the leaves. Last year Len bought me three different types of thyme, and I am so pleased to see some of them back this year! I didn't know they are perennials. I really enjoyed using thyme last summer, mostly with chicken. I also made a pasta side dish with a mix of fresh basil, parsley, chives, and thyme. Yum!
I very much enjoy the flowers of spring, but these returning bits of green bring me a different (quieter?) joy. I am so happy to have them back.

P.S. Sue B. at Attaining Virtue is hosting the Loveliness of Spring Fair--Flowerpots.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Simply Lovely Laundry

The third corporal work of mercy: To clothe the naked.

Colleen at Footprints on the Fridge is hosting the Simply Lovely Laundry Fair this week, which has got me thinking about our system.

I concur with Elizabeth that every family will have a unique way of keeping the laundry beast under control. I can't wait to read what others do, though, because I'm sure to find at least one idea that will make our home run more smoothly.

It may sound drastic, but the ABSOLUTE BEST thing we ever did about laundry was to move the washer and dryer. We moved into our brand-new house 14 years ago, and lived with the w/d in the small mud room between the garage and kitchen. It seemed a logical spot, but hauling full hampers and baskets up and down the stairs was not fun, especially during pregnancy. Sorting dirty clothes took place on the floor, visible from (and sometimes spilling out into) the kitchen.

Our master bathroom is a generous size, with a double sink, shower, and separate soaker tub. We decided to put the washer in there next to the tub. Len was able to do the plumbing work, hooking into the pipes that were already there. He went for the simpler solution of having it drain directly into the tub (from above), so I do have to wash it out before taking a bath. This is no hardship, because I rarely justify the time or hot water to soak there (and it's too deep and slippery to bathe children in).

We considered upgrading to a stackable w/d, but decided instead to put the dryer into our (not huge, but adequate) walk-in closet, which is actually in the bathroom too. We hired an electrician to rewire for an outlet to support the dryer, and then moved it upstairs (remarkably light!). We had measured several times to make sure that the closet door could open without hitting the dryer, but had neglected to see if said door was WIDE ENOUGH to actually fit the dryer through (it was NOT). Yikes! The next day included a life skills lesson for the children as they helped Len take down the molding, cut the dry wall, take up some tile, install a new, wider door, and build a new threshold. ;-) It's probably a blessing that we didn't notice the discrepancy ahead of time, as that might have put off the project indefinitely.

So I've enjoyed nearly a decade of having the w/d right there in my bathroom. There is room next to the washer for dark and light bins (actually kitchen size trash cans in two colors), and the children are pretty well trained to sort their dirty clothes. As our family has grown, we have added another upstairs hamper, which I carry and sort as needed. The mop bucket in the mud room holds laundry from the main level (tablecloths, dishtowels, rags), but almost all of our dirty laundry is generated upstairs. I'm downstairs most of the day, but it's easy to switch or start loads in the morning, during a diaper change, or any time I visit my room. If there is a big pile on the floor (not often), at least it's not on the main level. This move has saved me so much time and energy, and made laundry no big deal. I really don't mind doing the 1-3 daily loads that we generate here. (And about big families: we can fill a load or two every day, so each person can get by with fewer clothes. I can wear my favorite shirt two or three times a week, because it gets through the laundry cycle so quickly!)

There's not much left to say about our system:

  • I sort, wash, and dry. I could (should?) train the children, but I don't mind this stage, and everything turns over more quickly if the clothes are mixed, rather than having each person wash his own loads.
  • Hanging clothes go on hangers as they are pulled from the dryer. I'm in the closet, after all!
  • I bought a timer from King Arthur Flour to hang around my neck since I can't hear the dryer buzz anymore. I use it only for those loads that contain potentially wrinkling clothes.
  • The other clean laundry is dumped on my bed to be sorted by a teen into the multiple baskets (one per person/room).
  • Inspired by my husband who must have taken over one postpartum, we don't fold much into the baskets. Those who like folded clothes take care of it in the putting away stage. This sounds awful, but it works fine for jeans, pjs, underwear, sweats, etc. My husband is neat and orderly, so it's hard to believe this was his idea, but after looking at the state of the drawers, it does seem like wasted effort to fold.
  • I match the socks, and have a little drawer to hold those waiting for mates. Sometimes I do get behind. I know some families with wonderful sock systems (all the same, or different stripes, etc.), and maybe one of these days I'll try one.

Laundry is a basic homemaking skill. It's one of those things that just MUST be done, sooner or later, and sooner is so much easier. Once you have a system that works for your situation, it can become part of the natural rythym of your life.

Attitude counts, too. I think it was Mother Teresa who said, "Everything done with love becomes a prayer."

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Garden Addendum

Marianna has read "In the Garden", and says it is mostly true. In the interest of accuracy, I would like to mention some of the other inspirations for her flower garden. She wants to enjoy more pretty colors in the house and yard. She thinks Lauren (who recently took an oil painting class) would like to paint the flowers she grows. And, finally, Marianna will be able to give her leftover seeds to Mrs K., our "most beautiful garden" neighbor.

In the Garden

In case you've been living under a rock, I'll let you know that Webkinz is the latest stuffed animal craze. Each one comes with a special code that you use to join an online site with games and activities (like decorating your pet's room or "buying" toys for it). Marianna received a white terrier for Christmas (Thanks, Mimi and Granddad!), and likes playing on the website and checking Snowy's status.

One of Marianna's favorite parts of the site is the garden she created for Snowy. She's often checking on the progress of her corn, watermelon, etc. This fun along with the example of a gardening neighbor inspired Marianna to ask for a flower garden.

Mom the distracted, non-commital procrastinator would have said, "Maybe," or "We'll see," but her devoted father (aka the man of action) made a plan. Friday they bought peat moss, seeds, and fencing materials (We have deer, deer, and more deer here.). They dug up grass and rocks, turned over the soil, and added peat moss.
The plot is ready, but planting is supposed to wait until all danger of frost has passed (April 15-May 1, depending on who you ask). While they wait, the fence will go up.
This is to be a cutting garden, providing flowers for vases for us, and, knowing Marianna, for many friends and neighbors as well!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35)

This is one of my favorite gospel readings. Every year I am moved almost to tears by this story of two disciples walking to Emmaus on Easter morning. They meet Jesus on the way but don't recognize him. He asks what they are talking about, and they tell him of the crucifixion and the report of the women at the tomb that Christ is alive. Then comes the best part:

And he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures. As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.
With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?" (25-32)

God has given me faith, but I would love to have more wisdom and understanding. How I long to walk with Jesus and have him explain the Scriptures to me as he did to those disciples. I wonder if heaven will be like that.

Another beautiful part of this gospel is how the eyes of the disciples were opened at the Lord's table. They immediately got up and returned to Jerusalem and the apostles: "Then they recounted what had happened on the road and how they had come to know him in the breaking of bread." (35) The Eucharist is our opportunity to be with Jesus now. Do I appreciate this amazing gift?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

I Am a Terrible Mother

Yesterday Lauren stayed home from school--nausea, abdominal pain, can't lift one's head off the pillow. I was solicitous--calm, quiet, serving a special chicken, rice, and egg soup. She didn't experience the worst possible intestinal symptoms, and actually recovered pretty quickly.

Today it was David's turn. He stayed home from school. I made the special soup. I was kind. But part of me harbored a secret joy . . . no rush hour lacrosse driving today!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

VCUarts is #1

The 2009 rankings by U.S. News and World Report have just been released:

VCU's School of the Arts is now ranked 4th overall, up from 6th in 2003. No U.S. public university's arts and design school has ever been ranked this high. VCUarts is still the #1 public university visual arts & design program in the United States!

Over Easter break, Lauren and a friend spent several days enjoying Richmond and VCU. It is still Lauren's top choice, and she's decided to apply to the honors program as well. It's still hard to wrap my mind around the idea that she'll be gone in just a few months. :-(

Today's Schedule

Tuesdays are always busy, but this one is even more interesting than usual:

8:00 Start school (check!)
1:00 Art co-op here (not my week to teach, but we must tidy and clean, especially the art area, aka the kitchen table and island)
3:15 Violin lessons (Joe and Becca)
4:00 Haircut (me)
5:00 Pick up soccer (none of mine--part of a carpool)
5:30 Pick up lacrosse (David)
6:00 Irish step dance (Marianna's first class)
7:30 Sea Scouts (David)
8:00 Guitar lesson (Daniel)

Today's activities are all over northern Virginia, which is officially part of the second worst traffic area in the nation (LA is #1).
Bilocation? Not so much; Len will take half of this, starting with violin.
Dinner? Subs, made to order (probably during lunch or art) and eaten at home or on the road, as needed.