Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Quick and Cheap "IKEA hack" for Cloth Diaper Supplies

So I found a good use for an IKEA item.  But why do people call these things "hacks"?? Basically, I picked something up at IKEA, and I'm using it as really convenient storage for my cloth diapering accessories.....so because that's not necessarily the use that the manufacturer intended, does one get to call it a "hack"?

Anyways, I was looking for a convenient place to stash our cloth wipes, spray bottle, and other accessories (Snappi fasteners and diaper creams) near the changing table.  At our old house, we'd put a shelf on the wall above the changing table, but everything fell off all the time.

Then last time I went to IKEA I got one of their wall-storage systems - a rail and two buckets - and had Tom mount it above the changing table.  It fits everything I need in easy reach, and nothing can roll off the shelf!  It's been working out so perfectly. 

The aesthetic is a bit modern and sterile for my taste, but the utility is inarguable. 

In case you're interested....

My cloth wipes are the cheapy-cheap-cheap "baby washcloths" you find in multipacks at places like Burlington Coat Factory or Walmart (usually 4-6 for $1).  They hold up really well, and are just as effective as the fancy - and four times as expensive - flannel ones made by the cloth diaper companies. 

My wipe solution recipe
a squirt of baby wash
a squirt of baby oil
warm water to the top

Tom likes to spray the solution on the wipe first.  I spray it directly on the baby's bum, and then wipe :-)

Monday, January 19, 2015

Recent Quilting Projects

I'm so grateful for the local quilting group I've discovered.  I enjoy having a craft to work on, and I think I'm just burned out from knitting (not that I was ever very good at it).  It's just a great little break for me to be able to to get away one (and sometimes two!) evenings a night to just sit and quilt with other ladies.  I'm the youngest one in the group by far, and I stand out from the other members in various other ways....but in some ways, it's really good to get a glimpse of the world outside of my little bubble.

I finished my baby quilt, which was the first project we all did in the group.  Right now, it's hanging on a quilt rack in Stella's room, adding a pretty pop of color to the corner.  At some point - when I figure out what the heck I want to do with Stella's bedroom - I hope to hang it on her wall.

I mentioned before how our instructor was having us slowly make a queen-size quilt via "mystery blocks of the month."  The idea is that she tells you ahead of time how much to buy of various fabrics (of your choosing), and each month, hands you the pattern to assemble one square.  By the end of a year, you can join the blocks all together to create a quilt.

Well, instead of moving on to a second project like most of the other quilters, I've just been working on my blocks-of-the-month (which my instructor was nice enough to give me all the patterns for at once).  Fabric isn't cheap, so I want to use what I have, and wait awhile before I spend a bunch of money to start a new quilt.

I have 7 out of 12 blocks finished so far... (colors chosen to match our now-purple bedroom)

Sunday, January 18, 2015


We were at a thrift store the other day, and while digging through the children's book section, I came across a book called The Complete Book of Dragons.  It looked like it had potential, and I was considering adding it to my pile.... 

...And then I found the awesome drawings added by some former reader to the end pages (the book used to belong to an elementary school library), and I knew I had to get it.

 Check these bad boys out:

And my personal favorite:

notice the little stick figure being burnt to a crisp

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Kiddos

Just some updates on the people who have been consuming all my blogging time!

Sly is still ever ever ever so slowly learning to read.  He's doing a little better these days at imaginative play, which I feel has never come very naturally to him.  Rosie suggested that a good way to get kids playing on their own is to first sit down with them, and sort of "teach them how to play."  Once they get the hang of a new concept, you can sneak away and they'll have a fun time on their own.  I've been trying this recently, and having much success.  For example, I got out the toy cash register Sly received for Christmas, and said we were going to play "supermarket."  The kids helped me arrange all our play food by type on the shelves of an empty bookcase I brought into the playroom.  Then I gave them a little basket so they could "shop."  They brought their purchases to me at the cash register, I rang them up, and then told them how much play money to hand me.  They loved it, and have been playing store very regularly since.

Recently, he was frustrated because we've stopped buying juice.
Me: "Well, juice has a lot of sugar, Sly, and it kind of makes kids crazy."
Sly: "Juice doesn't make *me* crazy. Stella makes me crazy!"

Meanwhile, I've finally accepted that Sly's  "love language" is quality time, and the only way to keep him from acting out, hurting his siblings, and other wise acting crazy is to give him lots and lots and lots of it.  Sometimes I feel like there's not enough time in my days to give each kid all the attention they want plus keep up with the cleaning, laundry, meals, dishes, etc.  But I'm learning little ways to make it work.  This past week, I worked really hard to include Sly in everything I did.  He helped me in a lot of my chores, and I even popped up into his bedroom during his "naptime" (during which he hasn't actually napped for two years) to chat or play for a few minutes.  It's made him a much more pleasant little man!

Sly probably whacked Stella with that sword a second after this picture was taken

Stella is speaking in full (adorable) sentences now, and wanting to do a lot more things herself ("do myself!").  She still can not get enough snuggle time.  Her "love language" is absolutely physical touch.  She constantly runs up to Tom and I, saying, "I want YOU, Mommy/Daddy!!" which means she wants to be held and hugged and kissed.  She really is just a big sweetheart.

She's still resistant to potty training, but I'm not that eager to push it during the winter, anyways.  Too many layers to pull off, and the potty seat is too cold for her to just sit on, waiting.  But she's so good about naps and bedtime.  Many days, she is just ready for sleep and says, "go nap now, Mommy."  I love how she is so eager to please :-)

She's been playing with her dolls all the time, and it's so cute to see how she treats them like her real little babies.  She asks to put (real)band-aids on them, give them (real)medicine, put them in the (real)bathtub, and change their diapers.  Several times, I have found Linus' clean diapers in Stella's bed, which she must have stolen from under the changing table to put on her babies!

first snow of the year

Linus is still a very sweet and happy baby.  And he's learned to crawl, which I love.  Not only are crawling babies completely adorable, but it means they are able to entertain themselves much more easily.  He's happy to just get around the house and play with things he finds.  The only drawback is having to put baby gates up at the tops of the stairs....which we're still working on, because Tom's determined to find a creative way to do it without drilling into the nice woodwork.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Happy Feast of the Epiphany!

I promised some updates on Christmas, and here I am just slipping under the gate right at the end!

Ah, well.  It's because Christmas was such a busy, yet pleasant season for us this year.  Everything went smoothly, and we miraculously managed to avoid any major (lack-of-sleep+too-much-sugar-inflicted) meltdowns from the kids this year.  We even went to the Christmas midnight Mass for the first time ever.  With the kids! 

A question I have yet to find a satisfying answer to: Is this the twelfth day of Christmas, or was that yesterday?  I've been reading very conflicting things about this.  Do you start counting on Christmas day, or the day after?  Even Wikipedia admits that there is a controversy over which night is "Twelfth Night".  Most of my trusty sources seem to think Epiphany Eve is the proper Twelfth night, though, so that is likely what I'll go with.

We're having a very small Epiphany party tonight.  A priest friend invited himself over to do the Epiphany blessing on our house (!), and we said, "actually, we're still waiting for someone to come give our house the regular house blessing.  Can you do BOTH blessings for us?"  And he said yes, of course.  So we decided to invite over a few friends, serve up some dessert, break out a Catholic trivia game, and make a night of it!

Epiphany celebrates - among other things - the visit of the magi to Christ.   We finally moved our three wise men from their lookout on top of the china cabinet to join the other figures in our nativity set...on top of the television cabinet.  It's always disappointing to me that they only get to be there for one day before I pack the whole thing away.  So last year, I kept just the nativity set out until Candlemas, which I might do again.

I wanted a little more in the way of Epiphany decorations, so I recycled one of the Dollar Ttore cardstock stars from the kids' birthday party to serve as "the star."  I hung it from the chandelier over our Christ child statue on the dining room table.  (I almost said I "hung it over our centerpiece", but I realized it would be rather irreverent to refer to it that way!)


 Here are a few snapshots of our Christmas...

baby elf

a very well-dressed Santa we ran into downtown
Yes, that's right!  It only took me TWO YEARS to finish these babies.  And with that, I think I'm ready to retire from knitting.  With the exception of one baby blanket for each of my future children, but only because I set the precedent with the first ones.

This was our first Christmas in the new house, and I must say - I think the house really took well to Christmas decorations.  All the beautiful woodwork and molding provided many little ledges and nooks on which to place pretty things.

Unfortunately, most of my photos were not able to do it justice.  I still haven't found a way to take decent indoor shots with my mediocre camera(s) and the low amount of light in our house (a problem we are currently working to address!).  Almost all of them turn out blurry.  So here's the few that didn't.

Tomorrow I will begin taking down the decorations.  Part of me is looking forward to it, because it will remove a lot of visual busyness in one fell swoop.  The house is going to automatically feel cleaner and more spacious. 

But at the same time....it will no longer be so festive and cozy.  Just having the decorations up inspired us to light a fire in the fireplace almost every night.  But our wood supply is now dwindling, and I know we'll want to get more conservative with our fires for the rest of the year.  I am not looking forward to these cold, wet, and dreary days to come.  January through April is the most depressing and slow-moving time of year. 

So I'm determined to keep myself busy through the late-winter doldrums, by taking on a lot of painting projects around the house.  That will provide me with activity as well as some spirit-brightening changes around here - as well as, I hope, adding some literal brightness.  We're going with lighter, brighter colors in a lot of the rooms to counteract the dark wood everywhere.  We recently painted the dining room ceiling from light green to white, and the difference was astounding.  It immediately cheered me up every time I walked in there for days.

Well, Happy Twelfth Day of Christmas OR day-after-the-twelfth-day-of-Christmas, as the case may be!  Happy and joyous Epiphany to all!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Real Meaning of Christmas?

As Christmas day nears each Advent, I find myself growing more reflective about this holy day, and what it all really means that God sent his Son to be born in a stable in Bethlehem.  Often, I find myself pondering the humble, and poor conditions of this birth, and what this signifies about God's great love for us, and his huge and undeserved condescension towards his creatures.  I think about the secret and quiet beginnings of Christ's life, and what messages we are to take from it all.

This year, though, I find my Christmas ponderings going in some different directions.  None of this is new, of course, and I'm sure many others have spoken on these things much more eloquently.  But here's what's been on my mind and in my heart.

Sacrificial Victim
 I've been so struck this Advent with the idea of Christ coming to Earth as our Savior.  We're not excited at Christmas simply because it's "Jesus' birthday", and Jesus someone whom we love very much.  We celebrate because God has finally sent the One who can save us from sin and death.  We are joyous because Christ has come to sacrifice Himself.  Because He will die.

 I think going through the Jesse tree for the second year now has really helped this point to hit home for me, as we've reviewed some of the important events and figures in salvation history.  Jesus was born so that he could die.

We recently attended a lovely little folk concert where the women performed the song I Wonder As I Wander.  I had heard the title of the song before, and the tune sounded somewhat familiar.  But until that night, I had never really paid attention to the lyrics.  I'm sure the singer's beautiful rendition and the perfect acoustics in the old stone church helped to add to the haunting mood of the song.  But even without those factors, I still would have been crying...

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor orn'ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

When Mary birthed Jesus 'twas in a cow's stall
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all
But high from God's heaven, a star's light did fall
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing
A star in the sky or a bird on the wing
Or all of God's Angels in heaven to sing
He surely could have it, 'cause he was the King

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor orn'ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

It's somewhat sobering to think that the "real meaning of Christmas" is that this infant child was born so that He could die.  "When God sent his Son into the world, it was not to reject the world, but so that the world might find salvation through him." (John 3:17, Knox Bible)

As I've been reflecting on the "weary world" that Christ was born into, and the people's longing for a Savior, I became aware of how glorious must have been the exultation when at last He was born.

If you read the Gospel accounts, it's clear that even if Christ did have a peaceful and quiet entrance into the world, His birth was accompanied by many amazing and mystical events.  Think of all the visits from Heavenly beings that surround the birth of Christ - Gabriel's visit to Zechariah and to Mary, the various dreams that advised Joseph and the wise men of the proper course of action, the Holy Spirit coming down on Elizabeth (and, of course, on Mary at Christ's conception).  And at Jesus' birth, the angels came down to earth to sing their songs of joy!

Botticelli - Mystic Nativity
Hearing Christmas carols these past few days, certain passages have stuck out to me:

"...Join the triumph of the skies;
With th' angelic host proclaim,
"Christ is born in Bethlehem..." 

"...While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy."

"...From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold!....
And still their heavenly music floats
O'er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing.
And ever o'er its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing."

"...A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
Fall on your knees
O hear the angel voices..."

"Ding dong merrily on high,
In heav'n the bells are ringing:
Ding dong! verily the sky
Is riv'n with angel singing.
Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!"

And there are similar passages in most every Christmas hymn.

Giotto - Nativity
Somehow, until this year I didn't fully see how strange and wonderful and unusual all this was - that Heaven touched Earth on this night.  It's just been filling me with such awe.  I'm even considering creating some sort of hanging "ring of angels" (made with printed out images from fine art) to suspend over our nativity set, to help remind us all of this in future years - the rejoicing of the Heavenly host!

This also teaches a fundamental theological truth:  Christ is both God and Man.  And this is made manifest at His birth, when the natural and the supernatural come together to rejoice.


I hope these little musings made sense.  I'll probably be back next time with fluffier stuff, like pictures of my kids and our Christmas decorations :-)

I'll leave you with a sweet poem that was sent to us in the mail, written by G.K. Chesterton:
The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world's desire.)

The Christ-child stood on Mary's knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down

Friday, December 12, 2014

7 Quick Takes (Vol. 44)

It seems like the Catholic-blogging topic du jour is Santa.  Everyone's sharing whether they "do Santa" or not and explaining why.  Check out some of these posts at: Catholic All YearOne Catholic Mama, and Carrots for Michaelmas.

Our Santa policy will surely get more defined over the years, but for now we're still taking the "neither confirm nor deny" approach (in the words of Haley) that we settled on last year.  We still have a few books about Santa (I weeded out any that weren't otherwise a good story with attractive art work), but 90% of our Christmas book collection is based on the birth of Christ.  I'm confident that Sly understands the "real meaning of Christmas" from the conversations we've been having about it during Advent, and the Adventen [that should be a word.  Like Lenten, but Adventen.  Make sense?] practices we use: Advent wreath, hymn-singing, Nativity sets, Jesse Tree, etc..

At four years old, Sly is definitely getting more interested in the Santa idea this year.  I can tell he's wrestling with whether the tale is true or not.  And I'm okay with that.  If a direct question comes up, I'll probably handle it similarly to my approach to some of our other stories.  When I read the kids a story about a Saint or a version of the Nativity that's faithful to the real story, I often tell them, "This is a TRUE story."  But if we we read a made-up story about some lamb or donkey or camel that was present at the birth of Christ, I don't say "this is a true story."  Sometimes, Sly asks afterwards.  And I tell him, "well, parts are true - such as this and this.  And Mary might have said something like this.  But we don't really know what the lamb was named, or if it happened just this way....What do you think?"

My mom gave Stella a new outfit - a tunic top with leggings.  And I realized that I just don't understand modern fashions.  I was dressing her, and put her in the leggings....with high socks and tennis shoes.  It looked pretty silly.  I think the right "look" is to wear leggings barefoot with ballet flats?  See, I don't even know.  But it's wintertime in Pittsburgh!  It's cold!  So I guess she'll just look silly in her socks.

But remember when leggings used to be called "stretch pants"?  (Or, as we called them when I rowed on the crew team in high school, "spandex pants").  Remember when yoga pants were called "sweat pants"?  I feel like if we called things by their non-trendy names, maybe they wouldn't seem so acceptable as everyday wear!

[Flip-flops also used to be called thongs, which just sounds especially bad these days, but I'm conveniently not mentioning this example because I have been known to wear flip-flops from time to time...]

As much as I am behind on a lot of technology, it's dismaying sometimes to see just how dependent I've become on some things.  The other day I was going to a cookie exchange for my mom's group.  I have been to the hostess's house many times, and yet I'd always just used the GPS to find my way.  When I got in the car, the GPS cord was broken, and the thing would not turn on.  After struggling with it in the car for a while, I dashed into the house so I could print out some directions from Google (which now seems sooooo old-fashioned), but the website with her address wasn't opening.  Gah!  I literally didn't know where she lived or how to get there without my technology!  So I had to get really old-fashioned, and call her on the phone and ask her how to get there.

And then later that night, I had a dream which was just...me scrolling through Facebook.  And my imagination was coming up with realistic-sounding statuses that real-life friends might post, and I was having internal dialogue about them ("oh, that's interesting").  Wow.  Maybe I need to go on a technology fast...

We had some family photos taken last month.  Basically, every year that we have a new baby in the family, we get a professional photo taken.  It provides a much-appreciated yet simple Christmas gift to give the grandparents.  And cheap, too, if you hunt down coupons for free sitting fees and free prints, which I always do.  I've never spent more than $20 on our professional photos.

JCPenny also threw in a few free photo Christmas cards from our shots.  I went against my personal stance against photo cards, and sent those ones to select out-of-town relatives who I knew would love them.

Sly and I are still making our way through his reading lessons.  Recently, the pace has slowed down a lot with us getting through only two lessons a week (as opposed to one lesson a day, which is the intention).  For a while now, I've suspected that Sly could be finishing each lesson pretty easily, if he could just focus.  Reading lessons had become a little martydom for me, a momentous struggle not to yell at him for all his wiggling, messing around, intentional mis-pronounciations, etc.

But I finally found something that's helped him to concentrate on the lessons, and I think it's hilarious how well it's working.  Before we start our lesson, I give him a cookie.  I let him take one bite.  And then I tell him he can finish it only when the lesson is over.  The cookie sits there on the table the whole time.  He has that little taste still in his mouth, and he just can't wait to finish it.  Sly has been moving through the lessons so beautifully since I've started this!  He does know all the sounds and words, he just needed some incentive to concentrate :-)

Nope.  Not above bribing my kid with food.

Over Thanksgiving, Tom's mom treated the two of us to a date night at their local BYOB paint-your-own-picture place (her offer included chauffeuring us there and back, providing us with wine and snacks to take with us, and watching all three kids for the night!!).   It was a "couple painting" night where two people each make half a scene and you put the canvases together to make a full painting.

we're in the leftish foreground

An art instructor taught us how to paint, so no experience was necessary.  It was pretty fun, and I was pretty impressed that I managed to paint something half-decent...even though it is a cheesy snowman.

Tom refused to kiss me under the mistletoe, because he was embarrassed enough by the dorky snowman painting

wed joked that the male snowman is reaching out longingly for the woman, and she's saying, "um, we can just shake hands."

Quick Takes is hosted at This Ain't the Lyceum