Monday, August 31, 2009

Benefits of Being a Veterinarian's Child

Sure, we have the occasional dissection on the kitchen table, but meeting live animals is even more fun. Tonight Daddy brought home a baby squirrel!Wiggly, clingy, clambering, and drinking from a bottle, this little critter doesn't even have his eyes open yet. His kidneys seem to be working fine, though--he peed on Becca twice!
"Junior" (of course Marianna had to name him) has to go back to work with Len in the morning, but we're enjoying his visit for now.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Summer Grilling

In case you missed it, I've posted a recipe for Korean Bulgogi over at Come to the Table.

Parenting Advice from St. Francis de Sales

"In our duties we must work calmly and with composure, performing them as promptly as possible and as well as we can."

Of course, St. Francis is writing to everyone, but this quote addresses many of the "needs improvement" areas of my parenting.

When I first read this, a column Elizabeth wrote this summer leaped to mind. She spoke of gentleness and what I call "interruptibility."

Yes, my children need to wait sometimes, but most often it's better for me to treat their voices as monastery bells, calling me immediately to duty (especially when I'm reading or clicking).

Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever grow up! It seems I still have so much maturing to do. For right now my goals are
  1. calmness/composure/gentleness/patience and
  2. prompt/mindful/intentional parenting.
A tall enough order to keep me busy for a while, eh?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Small Successes


"It’s important for moms to recognize that all the small successes in our days can add up to one big triumph. So on Thursday of each week, we do exactly that. "

We've decided to postpone school until after Labor Day, which gives me more time to organize--yay!
  1. This weekend I organized and re-inventoried the big freezer.
  2. More than a year ago, we gave Marianna Tea and Cake with the Saints, but haven't done much with it UNTIL NOW. My daughter and I are in the process of organizing a "morning tea" for early next week. So far we've settled on a date and time, planned the menu, printed and colored invitations, bought scrapbooking paper to make envelopes (WAY out of my usual level of involvement), and begun collecting RSVP's. Next comes the advance food prep. Fun!
  3. While white water rafting this summer, I was faced with the truth that I have practically no upper body strength. After procrastinating too long, yesterday I had my loving husband walk me through a short set of weight training exercises. I asked for a routine that was 5 minutes or less (so I'm more likely to do it). He came up with something that is almost twice that long, but still feels short and is non-sweaty (so I can do it any time). It was embarrassing to show him how little I can lift (he's fit), but fortunately he loves me anyway. :-)
What are your successes this week? Find more inspiration and encouragement at Faith and Family Live.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My Dog Skip

For us, the best way to get a variety of ages to view a family show is to declare a "movie dinner." Screen time plus food equals success, so last night we ate grilled chicken and watched My Dog Skip (PG, 2000).
The premise (Netflix summary): "Lonely, 9-year-old Willie Morris lives in the flea-bitten town of Yazoo, Miss. He stinks at sports and has no playmates. So, over the strenuous objections of his hardnosed father, Willie's mother buys him a dog that he promptly dubs "Skip." Before you know it, Skip transforms Willie's life: He makes friends, plays sports and develops an unbreakable bond with the spunky terrier. Based on a true story."
The movie looks back on a 1940's boyhood, so culturally it's clean-cut. We (ages 4-14, plus parents) enjoyed the experience. Elements: some typical kid/coming of age moments (silly, mean, heartwarming) as well as some scariness*; sentimental without being sappy. I explained a few references to WWII and segregation.
I recommend this as a family movie. Don't just park the kids in front of it--you'll like it, too!
*Becca was teary during some of these parts. If all your children are young, you may want to wait, but if your young ones have older siblings, they'll probably be fine.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Frozen Assets

I have a big (taller than me), upright freezer in the basement. In addition to using the extra space for veggies, juice, and ice cream, I try to keep it stocked with extra dinners.

When I mix gyros meat, for example, I make enough to put two extra bags downstairs. That investment of a few additional minutes (working with 6 pounds of meat instead of 2) pays a big dividend later.

Anyway, that much freezer space can easily become a crowded cave filled with who-knows-what. I combat the chaos with an inventory kept on a dry erase board. It's simple to record the movement of foods in and out. When the list is trustworthy, I can be sure it's worth digging because, yes, there is another bag of marinated chicken in there.

Once in a while I'm too lazy (I tell myself I'm in a hurry) to write or erase. I can keep the changes in my head for a little while, but if I don't get back in line quickly, the board is no good anymore. The only way back is to start fresh, and that was yesterday's project.

David and I quickly emptied the freezer. While I took stock, he removed the ice from the freezer's floor (never underestimate the fun of a hammering chore for a boy-child). I put things away neatly and rewrote the board. Added bonus: in all the digging, I found a quick dinner! Board notes:
  • I record month and year of food as well as amount.
  • The red writing is for REALLY old things. (Danger! Danger! Use this up already!)
  • I don't bother inventorying some things: juice and nuts are always on the door, and ice cream is somehow on the radar without being written down. :-)
  • My board is big enough to list foods in categories: meat, prepared (chili, meatloaf), produce, and miscellaneous (pie crust, cheese).
An organized freezer is a joy to behold:Yes, I know I'm easily amused. :-)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Moving Day

Our convoy took Lauren back to school a week ago Saturday. There was a car for her, a car for us (Mom, Dad, boyfriend, brothers, cousin...), and a U-Haul.

Yes, she's off-campus this year, sharing a beautiful old house with three friends.She had a great summer, but was eager to get back to VCU. A bed, a bike, a dresser, etc. meant the trusty minivan was no longer vehicle enough to handle the trip alone.Len took this picture for his mom (I'm sure mine is happy to see it, too!): And there it is:The house is 104 years old, beautifully renovated but with plenty of character left.Lauren's room is on the third floor.It was hot, but we had such a big crew that it didn't take too long to get everything upstairs.Then it was all about unpacking, setting up, returning the truck, etc.After a late lunch we headed for home. I pass Lauren's empty room many times a day, but it's comforting to know she's so happy where she is.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Fashion Statement

It was hot here yesterday. I wore a white skort, turquoise top, matching earrings, and sandals.

Partway through the day Rebecca pointed to the purple plastic lei hanging on my doorknob and asked, "When are you going to wear the necklace I gave you?" Okay, then.

I put it on and wore it the rest of the day--to answer the door, hang out at soccer practice, and share dinner with the family. Thank goodness her query came AFTER my return from the grocery store(s)!

Recipe Review

Last week I tried a new recipe for pasta and tomato with honey mustard sauce.
One word review: Eh.

Multiple word review: I fiddled with the recipe to make enough for a full pound of pasta. It smelled great while the garlic and tomato were cooking. The basil was an attractive garnish, but there wasn't enough to provide much flavor impact. The atypical ingredients (honey, Dijon mustard, and balsamic vinegar) were interesting but overpowering. We ate it all, but to me honey-mustard is not a hot pasta flavor.

IF I try this style of sauce again, I will start with a dab of balsamic vinegar and MAYBE add a bit of honey or mustard. My next quick pasta dish will probably use Elizabeth's roasted tomato sauce, which I first tried last year.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Small Successes: the August Edition


"It’s important for moms to recognize that all the small successes in our days can add up to one big triumph. So on Thursday of each week, we do exactly that."

Be encouraged by other moms at Faith and Family Live.

I've skipped this exercise for the past two weeks, so there are many days to look at. Hmm... Which of my dozens of success stories are small enough to post here? Kidding, of course--most days have been a mix of success, failure, spinning wheels, and summer slowness. However:
  1. I registered the three youngest for homeschool soccer (our first time) and arranged four of David's (7?) behind-the-wheel sessions.
  2. I've been better than usual at working out playdates and cousin time for the kids.
  3. We moved Lauren into the house she's sharing with three other young women in Richmond. It was a hot, fun day.
That's it for now. Go find some reason to pat yourself on the back, too. :-)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Summer Prizes

Breakfast in bed is a new prize in our summer reading program, and this morning the first awards were given:
It took just a few extra minutes to set a lovely tray, and the girls were surprised and pleased to enjoy such elegance.We typically don't even allow food upstairs, so eating in bed (With china! And uncovered beverages!) is a major treat.Banana Chocolate Chip muffins are a family favorite.Have a lovely day!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Okay, This is Getting Weird Now

David just asked me (he SAYS randomly) when the next soup night is! Four in 24!

Yes, I know I'm up too late. I finally did the dishes after watching some distinctly non-chick-flick tv with David. Len and the other boys are off on a rafting trip, so of course I must stay up too late.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Thinking Ahead

Just today three--yes, three!--people asked me about soup night: are we having it again, when does it start...

I have been expecting to start soup season again in September; I guess it's time to put some dates on the calendar. One thing I've realized is that it's good to settle on early- to mid-month, so I can go into November (and maybe December) without conflicting with Thanksgiving and Christmas busy-ness.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Tragic Tidings

A family that I don't know personally has suffered a great loss. Their 14 year-old autistic son was missing from a campout and then found drowned in a lake. Please pray for them and for the soul of Ryan Barrett.

Some links:
a news story
a poem Ryan's mom wrote about him this past April
"20 Things You Can Do For Those Who Are Grieving"

St. Paul Doesn't Mince Words

From today's second reading:

"Brothers and sisters: Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord."

Ephesians 5:15-17

Friday, August 14, 2009

Basil Beauty

The backyard garden is growing but is not especially prosperous (a lot of early summer rain, plus an errant vine that sucked the life out of the soil, we think). The herbs up front, however, are enjoying the heat and sun.

The basil on June 28: And on August 12:I haven't made pesto yet (I usually procrastinate until the end of the season) but I've given away leaves and made plenty of tomato salads. We'll put a few plants in pots for Lauren to take to school. And tonight we'll try a recipe contest winner (a finalist, anyway): pasta and tomato with honey mustard sauce. It looks to be quick and tasty. Hurrah!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Explain This

To a four-year-old:

To get rid of bangs, you actually do NOT cut them. No, we haven't had a scissor incident, but it's taken many tries to convince Becca that bangs go away when you GROW THEM OUT. I'm just saying...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tea and Treats

Last night's peach melba shortcake--yum! No, I didn't bring my camera to my sister-in-law's, but everything looked so elegant that we couldn't resist getting a picture with hers; then my brother-in-law downloaded it onto his computer. Next I created this post from her house and uploaded the shot. Finally we played "show and tell" as I gave MA a behind the scenes blog tour.

Today I can add my caption and go. Ah, the wonders of the internet!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sister Night

I love my family, but I'm not so good at keeping in touch. For one thing, I hardly ever chat on the phone anymore (with either friends or relatives). And somehow it seems tricky to fit visits into daily life. For example:
  • My brothers live in FL and CA. Now that IS a good excuse for seeing them less than once a year.
  • My parents and two sisters are in NY, so I visit once or twice, usually for Thanksgiving and sacramental celebrations.
  • My MD sister is just an hour away, but sometimes it seems like the other side of the moon. We mostly visit when we're trading our matching boys for sleepovers.
  • And then there's Len's sister, less than 20 minutes away. If she lived right here in my neighborhood, I'd see her every day, but as it is, we both tend to run in our own busy circles. One thing we have done well is to commit to "Sister Night."
For years now we've taken turns visiting each other once a month (after dinner). We try to go for a walk, then share tea, treats, and talking as long as we can keep our eyes open. Before the night is over we put the next date on our calendars.

Sister Night is now part of the background, the ways things are. It isn't always easy to carve out the time, but it is part of our rhythm and so usually "makes the cut" as far as schedule-writing goes.

Tonight it's my turn to visit. We'll go for a long walk to earn our shortcake, then chat away. For a little something different, we're also having a mini book club meeting, discussing Picking Cotton.

Can you carve out some sister (real or just a kindred spirit) time? Now before school is in full swing is an opportunity to test the waters. You'll be glad you did!

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Thing of Beauty

While I'm not an artist, I deeply appreciate art and beauty--just ask anyone who's had the "good fortune" to meander through an art museum or craft fair with me! ;-)

One sunny June day Lauren and I attended the Western Loudon Artists Studio Tour. After narrowing our selection from about 30 choices, we drove around the county, visiting various studios and galleries. Artists were present with their works, and many offered demonstrations.

Of course we saw several photographers! :-) Lauren especially enjoyed speaking with a woman who manipulates images and transfers them to wood, plaster, and other materials. Her work is creative, and she was generously open with my art student, discussing techniques and favorite programs.

In addition to images, I enjoy the beauty of glass, pottery, jewelry, and textiles. We visited Katy Stidley who made glass beads while we watched. (I prefer her simpler designs to the bumpier beads shown in the link.)

Our last stop was the Round Hill Art Center, which was showing a bit of everything that day. The area claimed by the Waterford Weavers Guild grabbed my attention. Have I mentioned how much I like textiles? (If I didn't despise sewing I would so be a quilter by now!) Anyway, there was a rectangular silk shawl hand-dyed in gorgeous colors that looked as though it had been made for me--aqua and pale green for my eyes and a coppery shade for my hair. I was smitten but of course never considered buying such a luxury.

My artsy afternoon was over, but Lauren hasn't slowed down this summer. She's been to the Corcoran, Artomatic 2009 (both in DC), and the Lorton Arts Center, which is where she saw the shawl again. Talk about serendipity! The galleries are probably an hour apart, so those weavers sure seem to get around.

Last night we celebrated three August/September birthdays with my in-laws, and I was flabbergasted to pull some crumpled tissue out of a gift bag and find my shawl inside! Lauren and her boyfriend had gone back to Lorton the night before and found that one-of-a-kind piece still there.

I'm still amazed (and extremely pleased...).
Here are some pictures. Most of them don't look right to me--the colors seem washed out, and I'm not sure if it's due to the settings on our new monitor or my (lack of) picture-taking skills. The piece is called "Clear Water" (River Series Shawl) by Marilyn Harrington. You may be able to see the elongated diamond pattern of neutral thread (the weft?) above and below. It reminds me of moving water or river grasses.
Ms. Harrington certainly paid attention to details. Even the fringes are lovingly twisted and knotted instead of being left shaggy.Again, the photos look pale to me, but maybe you can get an idea of how well suited the colors are to me:MANY THANKS again to my loving family (and clever daughter) for one of the best, most unexpected presents EVER!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Food for the Journey

I'm mapping out the next school year and am alternately inspired and terrified. I want to cover an ambitious amount of material--ALL of American history, the experiments in the science book, and participate in a writing co-op, among other things.

Believe me, after all these years, I understand the danger of biting off more than I can chew. But I also feel that we've accomplished less than we could have the past few years because I didn't plan well enough. I did a good job of mapping out the overall weeks, but slacked when it came to transferring those goals onto daily plans.

I also know that it is possible to plan too much, but that has not been a danger for me in many years. We've been flying by the seat of our pants for awhile; in fact much of our forward motion has been fueled by good habits (thank goodness!).

Even when I wasn't ready in the morning (both with a plan and dressed and ready to go), my homeschoolers would get started. They'd do their independent work, then I'd scramble to catch up with the subjects that required preparations, personal time with me, or working as a group. That way got us through, but with more stress than necessary, and with less "fun stuff".

So here I am trying to set down pages per day without panicking. The potential benefits are so worth it: by writing down in advance which experiments we're doing when, for example, I'll have a jump on actually having the materials ready in advance. Exciting concept!

What does any of this have to do with this post's title? At mass today I was reminded that this is a journey and that I'm not on my own.

The first reading (1 Kings 19:4-8) tells how an angel brought Elijah food from heaven when he was starving in the desert. "...then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb."

In the gospel (John 6:41-51) Jesus explains, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."

And here's the morning prayer from Magnificat, "God of mercy and compassion, you sent food to strengthen the prophet Elijah for the journey to the place where he would meet you. You sent bread to strengthen your people in the desert for the journey to the promised land. You send us in Christ the bread of life to strengthen us for our journey on the road of discipleship. Sustain us in courage, faith, and hope, that we may one day see you face to face, through the same Christ our Lord."

Sorry to be so long-winded, but this gives me hope. My real goal is heaven, not just a "good" school year, and God will give me what I need to get there. Maybe we need to fit daily mass back in again...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Picking Cotton

When I first heard about it, I knew I had to read this memoir.

Here's the premise: a white woman is r***d at knife point in her apartment by a black man. She picks Ronald Cotton from a photograph and a police lineup (hence the double meaning of the title). She testifies in court and he is sent to prison.

Eleven years later he is exonerated by DNA.

He forgives her.

Doesn't that give you chills?

The book is written by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald, and shifts from one storyteller to the other. The assault, id and court time are detailed, as well as some of the emotional toll on Jennifer. Ronald explains his background and previous legal problems as well as some of his life in prison.

Jennifer feels anger and hatred and fear, and when Ron is released, guilt and shame are added to the mix. She and Ron participate in a PBS documentary, but have no contact (her request) during the filming. Here's her reaction after watching the video:

"I looked around the den, at the photos of my three children smiling back at me from the walls, and a picture of Vinny and me on our wedding day. Eleven years. How do eleven years pass when you are locked up for a crime you didn't commit? I couldn't begin to imagine. For me, they were eleven years measured in birthdays, first days of school, Christmas mornings.

Ronald Cotton and I were exactly the same age, and he had had none of those things because I'd picked him. He'd lost eleven years of time with his family, eleven years of falling in love, getting married, having kids. He looked forlorn on the television, hurt and bewildered. The guilt suffocated me."

At this point Ron had been out of prison for two years, and Jennifer requested a meeting with him. She asked his forgiveness, which he gave ungrudgingly.

The healing power of forgiveness is beautifully shown. Jennifer and Ronald now consider themselves friends. They both speak publicly and work with organizations committed to helping those who are wrongly convicted.

My rating: 4 stars--a quick read (this is not literature), at times disturbing and inspiring.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sweet Service

Daniel's springtime allergies are really troublesome, and meds don't help much with symptoms (plus some make him sleepy).

One of my sisters suggested taking a spoonful of LOCAL honey year-round as a way of desensitizing the body to our area's pollens; she's found relief for her allergies this way. While that's just anecdotal evidence, it sounds logical and well worth a try.

Finding local honey was the trick. I wasn't willing to drive around to random farmers' markets (and some purveyors come from hours away anyway), so I searched on the internet. It was difficult to figure out which phrases would yield usable results, but I finally ran across an apiary's phone number.

My first call (months ago) went unanswered, but last week's "last try" worked. I was called back by a man who knew exactly what I was talking about, allergy-wise, and who even had some advice for me (like don't heat the honey, as in tea). His honey is collected just a few towns away, and from blooms the bees harvest from March through mid-July, so it should include trees, grasses, etc.!

The icing on the cake? He dropped the first two jars at my house with an envelope for me to mail his payment. Who knew anyone still does business this way?

We've got a long wait for the results, but in the meantime Daniel is enjoying his "medicine".

BTW, my sister sent me a link to local, which helps locate local farms and farmers' markets. I got my "call back" before finishing my search there, but it seems to be a useful site.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Summer's Revolving Door

So Joe came home (from Boy Scout camp) this weekend, and Lauren arrives back (from Puerto Rico) today. But David left yesterday for a Sea Scout week-long sail. He'll return Sunday, and then Marianna will be on her way to the beach with a friend. By the time she gets back, we'll have the WHOLE ENTIRE FAMILY together for A DAY OR TWO after which Lauren heads back to college.

It didn't used to be like this...

And yes, we were together for a whole week at Saranac, but with all those cousins around we barely ever saw our own children! ;-)

Dan in Real Life

This is the movie we watched on this week's date night.

The premise: Dan is a widower, father of three girls, and parenting advice columnist. He meets a woman who fascinates him, only to discover that she is his brother's new girlfriend. Much of the movie is devoted to the frustrations of not being able to have (or even TRY to have) someone he wants.

While largely predictable, the movie was still enjoyable. Miscommunications and misunderstandings (in real life or the movies) really bug me, so this plot is one type that draws me in. The interactions with his children (two are teens) felt true to life, and the extended family was a treat.

Dan in Real Life is rated PG-13 (2007), but is on the milder side of that range. There is no explicit sensuality, and very little inappropriate talk, either. There are a few themes that I would want to discuss with watching teens, but I doubt most would be interested anyway (the focus is on a middle-aged dad, after all).

My rating: 3 1/2 stars out of 5. I hardly ever give fives, so this is a perfectly fine ranking. It's not exactly a "dating" movie, but a charming choice for a married date night.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Let Him Serve Cake . . . With a Spoon

My darling birthday man (I can't tease him about his age since I'm older!) asked for one of his four favorite desserts* today: hazelnut cake. He prefers it unadorned--no icing, no whipped cream, no ice cream, nothing.

I baked two cakes so that one could go in the freezer for some other special day. When it was time to flip the layers out of their pans (sandwiched between cooling racks), one slipped, with the cake landing half on the rack, half on the table. Not good!Usually this would make me crazy mad or bring me to tears of frustration, but today will be different. I wrapped up the pretty layer, and we will enjoy birthday cake served in bowls. I know, he likes it straight up, but the raspberries look so pretty! And they are on the side, after all...HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HONEY!

*And for the uber-curious: the rest of his top three are cheesecake, apple pie, and tres leches cake.


"Do not be disheartened by your imperfections, but always rise up with fresh courage."

- St. Francis de Sales

Today's quote reminds me of something Father said to me at Thursday's Confession, about this being the chance to make a fresh start. It's easy to be discouraged about my recurring sins and faults, yet true faith means accepting the wiping clean of my slate and taking courage to begin anew.