Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Mardi Gras Feasting, Lenten Fasting

And once again, Lent seems to have sneaked up on me!  It's not here *quite* yet, though.  So make sure to spend today enjoying some good eating and the company of friends or family.

If you don't have a plan for dinner tonight yet (and I'm amazed I actually do, since "meal planning" hasn't existed in my house since before Linus was born), may I suggest making the ever-delicious Pasta Carbonara?  This is a dish I first tried when I visited Rome in college, and I looked up the recipe as soon as I got home.  It's a perfect dish for Mardi Gras, as it uses so many of the ingredients that were traditionally forbidden during Lent: eggs, cream, cheese, and bacon (!). 

This is the recipe I use, though I typically reduce the amount of bacon, because - and this is not something I ever say - there's simply too much bacon.
Fettuccini Carbonara
recipe image
Rated: rating
Submitted By: Sarah W. Lennox
Photo By: mobiousz
Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Cook Time: 25 Minutes
Ready In: 35 Minutes
Servings: 6
"Bacon, shallots, onion and garlic, cooked in a thick creamy sauce, and tossed with fettuccini."
5 teaspoons olive oil
4 shallots, diced
1 large onion, cut into thin strips
1 pound bacon, cut into strips
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 (16 ounce) package fettuccini pasta
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat olive oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Saute shallots until softened. Stir in onion and bacon, and cook until bacon is evenly browned. Stir in garlic when bacon is about half done. Remove from heat.
2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain pasta, then return it to the pot.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks, cream, and shredded Parmesan. Pour the bacon mixture over the pasta, then stir in the cream mixture. Season with salt and pepper.


Some Lenten practices we're going to try as a family this year:

Keeping the house sweet-free: no candy, cookies, juice, etc. during Lent (except Sundays!).  But if we are out of the house, and someone offers the kids a piece of candy or something, I'm just going to let it go.  I'll be reminding the kids why we're doing this, but I have a feeling that the first week or so will be filled with some whining and complaining.

Printing out Lenten calendars that the kids can color in each day as we get closer to Easter.  Catholic Icing has a good one, or check out the one at  Pondered in My Heart if you follow the traditional calendar (it includes Ember Days, Passion Sunday, etc.).

A crown of thorns to use as a sacrifice-counter.  This is a very similar idea the manger that our kids add "pieces of hay for baby Jesus" to during Advent.  Except in this case, each time they make some sacrifice during Lent, they will get to remove a "thorn" from the "crown of thorns."  I bought a grapevine wreath for $5 at Michael's, and we'll stick some toothpicks in it to represent the thorns.  I'm not certain whether the kids are quite old enough to really get this one yet - baby Jesus did not, as it turns out, have a very cushy bed by Christmas morning!  Either way, it will make for a good Lenten centerpiece on the table.

Stations of the Cross.  We say a family Rosary every night before the kids go to bed.  On Fridays of Lent, we'll switch to saying the Stations of the Cross, using the The Way of the Cross by St. Alphonsus Liguori (the booklets only cost a couple bucks, and are definitely worth having).  We also have a couple new Stations of the Cross chaplets, which I'm looking forward to using with the kids (similar to this).

Baking pretzels!  Pretzels are traditionally a Lenten food (and the recipe contains only Lent-friendly non-animal ingredients), and can help teach kids about the meaning of the season.  This one is still my favorite recipe.

That's it, so far.  Every Lent, I think about how the focus is meant to be on "prayer, fasting, and almsgiving."  And I always struggle to know what to do with the almsgiving part, especially with the kids.  If you have ideas, please share them with me!

What are your families doing to observe Lent this year?

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