Monday, June 30, 2008

This Magic Moment

We've had Dusty for eight months now, and although Emma still growls, hisses, and runs away, we've continued to hope that someday she would tolerate and maybe even like him. Last week Len said he had seen them both lounging on the rug, but until Dan snapped this photo it was hard to believe. Emma's still not really happy--check out that "sourpuss" look! Anyway, this short lived truce was a welcome respite for Dusty, (wag, wag, jump, wiggle, wag).

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Party Time

We had two celebrations this past weekend: Lauren's graduation party on Friday night, and David's Eagle Scout ceremony and reception Saturday afternoon. This was arranged to make it easier for out of town guests, but it also made it easy to share preparation, food, and cleanup.

Lauren chose to have a cookout. We invited family to arrive at 6:00, friends and neighbors at 7:00. I think it was a great idea! Lauren was able to spend concentrated time with her grandparents, cousins, etc., and then entertain her nice group of friends also.

I made too much food (SHOCKING, I know), but much of it was sent to David's reception as well. Of course, we needed a second cake. You can't really have too much chocolate cake with French buttercream, can you? (Apparently you can--I put a big chunk in the freezer just today...) I'll post recipes and comments about the cakes on my cooking blog.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Making Memories

As Anne and I exchanged First Holy Communion visits, we realized anew that our daughters are two peas in a pod. So when she and Mark came to VA for a wedding weekend, they brought Emma along to stay with us.

We all had a great time! The girls hit it off right away. They stayed busy, busy, busy. In fact, whenever her mom called to check in, Emma was off somewhere--at the creek, on a hike, etc. We also spent time at the pool, hunting fireflies, and playing games. I had the pleasure of taking just the two of them to Mass on Saturday night, where my daughter struggled mightily (been there, done that!) to stay awake on the third exciting day of the visit.
Len took the girls and Dusty on a hike at Walney Pond. They're posing above in front of the rootball of an overturned tree.
We played several games of "Sorry" on our final night. It was perfect for the end of so many tiring days--a tiny bit of strategy and a lot of luck meant that winning and losing were both fun. Notice how many bodies are in the picture; Emma's cheerful exuberance drew everyone to her, not just Marianna. Rebecca shadowed them as much as they would allow, and the boys enjoyed laughing, teasing, and playing with her. In the car, Daniel looked back and remarked that, "Her eyes are so sparkly!" She is a sparkler, all right. We can't wait to see Emma again. (Marianna wants to know when this summer she'll go to Michigan...not likely...)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Thanks for Your Prayers

Here's an excerpt from an email my mom forwarded today:


This note is to let our "prayer group" know that the additional testing
J had earlier this week showed that he did not appear to have an active
cancer.The Doctor believes that the most likely cause of the elevated tumor
marker is the somewhat shrunken, calcified tumor that is attached to his liver
from the original cancer.There was no clear reason why the tumor marker became
elevated at this time. The current treatment plan is to do additional blood work
(tumor markers) in about three months if there are no other symptoms and, most
likely, to remove one lobe of his liver and the original tumor. The timing
of that procedure will depend on any significant change of the tumor
marker.While major surgery is still a real possibility, the news was extremely
good! S and I thank you all for your prayers and ask that you continue your
good work to thank God for the good news and to pray that the final result is
just as positive as the first.

Sincerely,S and C

Thank you for praying, and thank God!

Bonus Harvest

Joseph and I did indeed pick more cherries yesterday morning. He was the the only child who was home and awake when I returned from Dusty's walk, lucky boy. It was actually quite pleasant to pick so early in the day, while the house was still shading the tree.

I don't know if this looks like a lot of cherries to you, but they sure took a long time to pit! Len and I probably spent an hour (with a movie) taking care of them. They're in the freezer now, and will probably more than fill a one gallon bag.

The birds and squirrels are more than welcome to what's left. We've never been able to get so many cherries (and so red!) for ourselves.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Prayers, Please

My cousin was treated more than four years ago for testicular cancer (including some liver involvement). His blood markers are up now, which is not a good thing. Please pray for him and his family. Thank you.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Cherry Picking

Our first home had a sour cherry tree, and we planted another soon after moving into this, our second. It's taller than the deck now, and quite fruitful.(I was soon informed that Dad allows Becca to go up just two steps--oops!)Deciding when to pick the cherries takes some luck. If we wait for them to be fully red, the birds and squirrels strip the tree bare before we get any. So one hot morning in early June we began gathering our share of the crop. We pick from the ground, the ladder, the deck, and sometimes climb the tree itself. This time Daniel came down quickly as there were so many ants on the tree (and him). We gathered a few gallons and stashed them in the fridge to deal with later.

Eventually it was pitting time. I managed to pick a moment when almost no one was around (yes, poor planning), so I put in a dvd about the Holy Land and set to it. These cherries are soft (vs. firm Bings), so the pit is pulled out rather than ejected. Lauren processed enough for 2 cups (a much larger volume before pitting) and I finished the remaining 16. It was an interesting video. Really.

I made a large cherry cobbler that night, and froze the remaing cherries on a baking sheet. That reminds me--I need to go put them in a bag to wait for some cold night when we want a sweet taste of summer.

The funny thing this year is that our competitors have been very slow to finish off the harvest. Usually the tree is stripped in a day or two, and very soon after our gathering. Now the remaining cherries (and there were PLENTY) keep getting redder and redder than we've ever seen. The tree is about 1/3 bare now (starting from the top and "outside" [farthest from the house or closest to the sun?]), but I'm tempted to organize another picking crew tomorrow. I'm finally removed enough from the pitting to be ready to have another go.

Why Is It So Hard to Cook Dinner for Five People?

I'll tell you why--because I'm used to cooking for 8-10!

We had long term houseguest(s) this school year, so I became accustomed to cooking for a crowd. Some adjustment was required when we were back down to our family of eight, but I'm really off my stride with some of these summer days. When one or two are gone, I notice and miss them.

When more are missing (like the three teens for the next several days), I have to force myself to make anything "real". Somehow it doesn't seem worth the trouble for such a "small" group! Five used to be my whole family (long ago in a galaxy far, far away...), so it's amusing how much these meals throw me for a loop.

Tonight's dinner (with Len working late) will be leftovers and/or quesadillas (a popular way to use up the leftovers!). Tomorrow I'll try to be back on track.

Are your plans affected by a few missing children? How about when Dad is not home for dinner?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Graduation Day

May 29th: the day my first baby became my first high school graduate. So many milestones passed, and so many more to go... Things are still so busy here (even though school is out and the pool is in) that I'm not feeling overly sentimental yet. I think it's not going to hit me fully until we drop Lauren off at VCU in August and turn around to drive home WITHOUT HER.

BTW, graduation was lovely. Lauren's school holds the ceremony at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in DC. Tickets were limited, but we were able to bring three siblings and Len's mom along. Since Len in an alumnus, he presented Lauren with her diploma, making it a doubly special moment.

Yes, I was fiddling with the camera menu and missed the beginning announcements--Aargh!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Cooking Links

In case you haven't read enough about Marianna's tea party, I've written a post about it on my cooking blog. This one is about how to organize a tea party, along with menu suggestions. I didn't write separate recipes, but the post includes info on how to make cucumber sandwiches and crystallized (sugared) roses.

And now that grilling season is in full swing, you may want to revisit the four marinade recipes I posted for boneless chicken: Asian soy-orange, Asian hoisin, Indian yogurt, and honey mustard.

The Mother of Invention?

Now that jacket and sweatpants season is over (WAY over--in the humind 90s for days!), I have no pockets for my morning walks. I wanted a small fanny pack to carry tissues, doggy bags, and the cell phone--I really do get early calls from home. I was willing to wear a kid-sized one, but none were to be found. It was time to go to the store.

Well, I have a hard time getting out to shop, especially for myself. For example, I really want some summer "play dresses", but so far have managed just one unsuccessful 45 minute trip. After more than a week in need, I finally had a brainstorm and made my own pack by using a key ring loop to attach a small case to an old belt.
Although my diminutive model looks tres chic (Yes, she picks out her own outfits!), I'm glad this homemade pocket hides under my baggy walking shirt. ;-)

Virginia Voting

I don't check my calendar before walking Dusty, so I forgot that yesterday was an election day until I approached my polling place, the local elementary school. It was just a primary for our local Congressional district, so turnout was expected to be very low, giving every vote even more weight than usual.

After just a little internal debate I decided to vote right then rather than postponing until a less convenient moment. So for the second time in a row I tied Dusty outside and went to the polls pre-shower, in grungy clothes, and without my picture id. In Virginia we're supposed to present identification, but there is a provision for those who don't. I was able to sign a form certifying, essentially, that I am who I say I am. Last time the poll workers were a bit flustered by this, but yesterday all went smoothly.

Yesterday there was no one in line (did I mention low turnout?), so only 4 people got to see the unadorned morning me. Last time I ended up in line right behind one of my court neighbors (!), chatting about our daughters and colleges. He was dressed for work, as was the rest of the early morning crowd. Special...

I checked online a few minutes ago, and found out that my guy won the nomination. Hurrah!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Inspiration Revisited

AKA the Daily Mass Update:

As I expected, participation at noon mass has dropped off now that official classes are over. I'll usually have one or more volunteers attend with me, but if the teens are home, some littles choose to stay behind.

Still, this is more daily mass than I've attended in several years, and certainly more children are joining me than when 6:15 was my time of choice. So it is good.

BTW, my parish offers 6:15 a.m., 9:00 a.m., and noon masses M-F, and 9:00 a.m. on Saturday (which I haven't managed yet). What luxury!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Weekly Chores

Most of my recent posts seem to be about special events or other cheery, "yay me" topics. But yes, there is a real life and real work here too. A good Saturday morning is one that contains no outside activities so we can get a good start on the weekend chores. All the children except Rebecca have their duties. I have some chores of my own, the most important of which is keeping the children on track with theirs.

Yesterday was a good Saturday, and it looked like this:

Children: Ready bedrooms for vacuuming. Vacuum main level, vacuum upstairs. Take furniture and rugs out of kitchen and vacuum to ready for mopping (It's a big kitchen.). Empty all trash. Clean the guinea pig's cage. Wipe toilets (4) and clean soap dishes. Wash bathroom sinks and mirrors (3). Reorder kitchen after mopping. Sort and put away laundry. Clean litter box and move it to the basement for the cat with a broken fibula (poor Emma).

Mom: Mop kitchen. Hound Supervise children. Wash and dry laundry. Nag Encourage children. Help the little girls clean their room (includes pulling things from under beds and desks, looking in drawers, and getting rid of everything from paper scraps to rocks). Tidy my own room. (Not really--my room is always immaculate--I just wrote that to make you feel better--as if!)

Jobs still needing to be assigned: Vacuum stairs. Wash tub and showers. Dusting. Any takers?

There was a time when I did all our cleaning. The kitchen was kept clean, but there was NO dusting going on, and precious little vacuuming and mopping. I started training the children, and at first it seemed like more work than doing it myself. They did not vacuum as well as I do, but they were doing it more frequently, so I learned to count it as good.

As the years have passed the training is paying off. There is no way I could get all our current Saturday morning work done by myself. And the daily chores are helpful too, even when they're not done perfectly: taking out the compost, feeding the pets, setting the dinner table, emptying the dishwasher, sorting the clean laundry, and cleaning up after dinner (putting away food, clearing and wiping the table, vacuuming the kitchen, and washing the dishes).

Monitoring work, especially new tasks, is the key to getting it done right. I don't always follow through as much as I should, but the better I am at teaching, the more satisfactory the results.

There is also a "chore culture" here, if you will. Chores are part of the rhythm of our family's life. Everyone is expected to help, and knows it. It took a while to get here, but I like this place.

A Lovely Tea Party

We celebrated Marianna's 8th birthday with an afternoon tea. It took time to pull together, but was such fun! I'll post some party prep tips on my cooking blog soon. I was able to hire Lauren for most of the last minute work, which made that time much more relaxed--she was a great help.

The party was scheduled from 12:00-2:30, since afternoon tea is filling enough to consider as lunch. In a sweet gesture, Marianna allowed little sister Rebecca (just 3 1/2) to attend her fancy party.

That morning found us all dressed up and laying a fine table. We used real china and silver, and the good table linens.As the guests arrived they donned aprons and began decorating gingerbread cookies to be taken home as party favors. This activity was first so the icing would have time to dry and because not everyone could arrive promptly at noon.

The icing didn't dry as much as I had expected, probably because the girls were so generous in its application! ;-)The girls sat down to a first course of tiny sandwiches (from traditional cucumber to much-less-so peanut butter) and wraps.
The wraps were ham/American cheese and turkey/provolone/tomato/ranch dressing.
Scones were served next, with strawberry jam and whipped, unsweetened cream.
All the guests enjoyed hot (decaf!) tea, which was served with cream, sugar cubes (VERY popular), and lemon wedges. Some tried all the condiments at once. The resulting curdled cream was quite unattractive, leading to several "do overs". I also served cold water in the crystal glasses.
By then everyone was ready for present opening and play time. These little ladies are also energetic children.
Eventually we reconvened for the dessert course. The birthday cake (3 layers of butter cake filled with chocolate ganache) was tiny (6" diameter) and decorated with sugared roses from our garden.
It was served with an assortment of tiny treats: chocolate covered strawberries (made by a friend), raspberry bars, fudgy brownies, and lemon bars.
After that it was time for more free play. Soon all the guests were gone, leaving us with happy memories and lots of dishes to wash. ;-)