Monday, March 25, 2013

Preparing My Toddler For Easter

I've been pretty lazy about teaching Sly about Easter.  During Advent, I was really on top of implementing different devotions and traditions, and explaining them in ways he could understand.  I read Sly many versions of the Christmas story, let him play with a couple different nativity sets, had him add "hay" to the manger.  By the time Christmas rolled around, I was confident that he had a pretty solid understanding - at least for a two year-old - of what it all meant.

But this Lent, I haven't even tried to get Sly involved.  He's too young to be able to give anything up, or even participate in abstaining from meat.  So I haven't bothered to mention those aspects to him.  We've been praying the Rosary regularly again, but I haven't explained what prompted it.  Lent is supposed to focus not just on prayer and fasting, but also on almsgiving.  That would have been easier to involve Sly in...but I just didn't think about it.

He has said to me a few times, "It Lent, Mommy."  I know he has no clue what that means, but it is cute, and it tells me that at least he's picking up something from listening to our conversations.

But how do you explain Lent to a toddler?  How can I explain Jesus' death, when Sly is too young to grasp the concept of death?  And harder still, how to teach him about the Resurrection, which is a difficult thing even for adults to understand?

I think we have a couple books about Easter packed away, but I haven't dug out any Easter decorations yet.  Maybe we'll take a look at them this weekend while we dye our eggs.

Anyways, it's tempting to beat myself up for not being some kind of "Catholic super mom", but I think it would actually be prideful to expect myself to be.  Yes, I probably could have done more to prepare his little heart for Easter.  But as long as we've been consistent on slowly teaching him how to love God,  how to obey his parents, and how to pray...we're doing enough, I think.  He's only two-and-a-half!

And I remembered an incident which allowed me to see how much Sly is able to figure out, even without my help.  When our new missal arrived a few weeks ago, I sat down with Sly to show him some of the pictures.  On one page was a scene of the Crucifixion.  Sly described it to me, saying, "Jesus on cross.  Jesus have boo-boos."  Turning the page, we saw a drawing of Christ risen from the grave.  Sly said, "Jesus happy now."  <heart melting>

And I'm perfectly satisfied with that level of understanding from him right now.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Our Thrifty DIY Built-In Bookcases

Well, we finally completed the built-in bookcases I gave you a sneak peek of a while back!

It's been a dream of ours to one day buy a house equipped with lots of built-ins, or else install them ourselves.  Buying a house is still a semi-distant reality for us [although we recently paid off all my student loans AND the car, which means we can finally start saving for a down-payment - woo hoo!] but we were getting antsy to find a solution for book storage, so we decided to just give it a go here at our rental.  I probably wouldn't have agreed unless Tom had offered to donate the bulk of his "birthday money" (money he received as a birthday gift from his parents - in other words, money that wasn't coming out of our budget) to the project.  We kept it pretty cheap, which is good because we can't take it with us when we move!

The shelves are now serving us well by holding our stereo, our record collection, and a portion of our books.  It gave us some good practice as well as a few ideas for how we can do it better next time.

Christine Actually Remembers to Take Photos Of Each Step of the Process

Here we have the alcove "before".  You can see in this picture the ugly ("but, hey, it was free!") shelf we had in the space before.  All the openings were awkwardly-sized, so it ended up having a lot of wasted space.

 Tom's parents visited for a few days after Christmas, and Tom put his dad to work helping him build the shelves.  They cut plywood supports to go under each shelf, and used toggle bolts to anhor them in our hard plaster walls.

The next part took an entire day.  The walls on our 100+ year-old house are anything but straight, so meticulous measurements and re-measurments had to be made for each shelf.  The guys used sheets of plywood and cut them into shelf-tops and shelf-fronts.  The pieces were attached with wood screws so that each shelf can be lifted on and off their wall-mounted supports.

 This is the part where I came in:  Painting!  We decided to do a green accent color on the backs of the shelves (except the top level, to make it visually terminate before the ceiling).

If you take a look at anything we have painted in the house, you might get the impression that we're both nuts for green...but really, it's one of the few colors we can happily compromise on...

And after a few nights of painting the shelves themselves, which were spread out ALL over the dining room on newspaper....Starting to look pretty sharp!


Then we ruin the nice crisp white-on-green look by throwing on our total hodge-podge of stuff.  But it was meant to be practical, not a picture from Real Simple (as Tom often likes to remind me).

Notice the stuff underneath the shelving.  That big black rectangle is one of our gargantuan speakers (I would SO love if *someone* would agree to pare down to saner-sized ones...).  The wooden objects lying on the floor are two recycled cabinet doors, purchased for $2 a piece at our local "building material reuse retailer".

Note to selves for next time: Buy cabinet doors or other pre-fab items before you start anything else, and construct/measure everything based on the size of that.  We stupidly built everything else first, so were pretty limited in which cabinet doors we could pick.

All done!
Tom built a plywood casing to hold the cabinet doors in place, leaving a cubby hole for the speaker on the right.  We painted the doors green to match the backs of the shelves (which, admittedly, you can barely see now that our books are all jammed on them).  We left the old and very dated-looking hardware on the cabinet doors.  I'm not entirely happy with it, but again, we don't own the house.  It doesn't make sense to sink too much money into it.

Oh, and one more thing - Tom didn't like the look of the joint where the bottom of the shelf met the casing around the cabinet.  So he bought a pre-painted strip of chair rail moulding and nailed it over the gap.

 It looks so much cleaner now!

He also added another strip of moulding along the floor to mimic the curved bottom of the baseboards (sorry - we chipped a little paint on the baseboard during the construction, and still need to touch it up).

Total Cost
We were keeping a list of materials and prices, which I planned to share here, but Tom tells me it is lost...humph.  I'll do my best to re-create it.

Materials we had to purchase were: 
3 sheets of plywood (about $25 each)
wood screws
toggle bolts
1 sample size green paint (a few bucks)
1 quart white paint
2 recylcled cabinet doors ($4 together)
2 strips of moulding ($11 together)

Materials we already owned included: paintbrushes/rollers, putty knife, circular saw, jigsaw, drill.

Our total was just around $200.  That sounds like so much money to me, especially considering we don't own the house.  But when I thinking about it, it's actually a pretty good deal.  When I see custom-built shelving like this in home decorating/DIY magazines, the total cost is often much higher: something like $700-$1200 (granted, most of them probably use "real" wood, and look more polished than ours).

But we got a large custom-built, custom-sized, sturdy bookcase that helps that space accommodate so much more than it could before.  I love that we were able to do little things like build the stereo shelf the exact height needed to be able to open the lid of the record player just far enough that it stays open by itself.  Or the way Tom drilled a little hole in the shelf below as a way to conceal the cords (There is no electrical outlet in the alcove, so he also drilled a little hole in the floor.  Yes, the stereo is actually plugged in in the basement).

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Shabby Apple Gift Certificate Giveaway!

I'm pleased (and a bit jealous) about the opportunity to offer my readers the chance to win a $15 gift certificate to Shabby Apple.  This is a great source for feminine attire, vintage-style dresses, and modest clothing.  I often find myself paging through the site, pining over all the beautiful things!

Sea Breeze dress
We do things the old-fashioned way around here: leave a comment telling me about one of your favorite products from the site.  I will choose a comment at random next week as a winner!  Good luck :-)

Important Notes: This giveaway is only available to readers in the US.  Also, Please please please!  If your e-mail address isn't linked to your blog profile, make sure you include it in your comment so I can get in touch with you if you win.

Friday, March 15, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 27)

I just remembered 7 Quick Takes Friday, and I don't think I'll have the time to think up and write about seven things (it's close to midnight, and I gave up internet on Fridays!).  But I'll see how far I get...

A fellow mom from my Catholic Moms Group invited people over to bake pretzels the other day.  We used a recipe from another mom in the group.  They were SO delicious.  I ate two pretzels there, then went home and immediately printed out the recipe to make another batch to accompany our (very disappointing homemade) minestone soup at dinner.  I ate four at dinner, and another one later as a snack....and two more as a snack this morning.  But hey! Pretzels are a traditional Lenten I was actually being devout somehow...not just gluttonous as you might be thinking.

But seriously, make them.  They're delicious.  Don't skimp on the salt.

 On Wednesday, I was pretty glued to EWTN, waiting to see if we would have a new Pope.  The time between the first sighting of white smoke and the presentation of Pope Francis was about an hour (thankfully, BOTH kids were napping at the time, so I was able to hang around waiting impatiently).  I didn't want to leave the room even for a second, so I had to find a way to feel productive while I sat and waited.  I pulled out the iron and finally got through most of the ironing pile. 

We have a Pope now, which is good.  I'm hearing such mixed reports on the man, and I've decided I just can't - and probably shouldn't - make any judgements.  But he needs all our prayers, so that will be my focus for now.

Some toddler stuff...

Sly held up a thermometer the other day and said "That's for hurting your bum".  haha

Sly watches Sid the Science Kid on PBS some mornings (sort of an annoying show, if you ask me, but it's on at the perfect time of day for me to get certain things done, so I use the rely on the electronic babysitter...).  Anyways, he's been learning all these science-y vocabulary words and concepts.  He comes up and talks to me about things like "water systems" and "habitats".  I doubt he understands much about them, a former biology teacher, and hopeful future homeschooling mother...I don't know how I feel about the fact that he learned all this from tv first.  Maybe I should just be glad he's learning it.

We visited Tom's parents last weekend, and on the way home, passed through Lancaster, PA so we could go to Mass on the way.  I've never been there before.  Parts of it were ridiculously touristy.  This sign pretty much sums up the extreme exploitation of the Amish we saw in parts:

"Not just stuff...Amish stuff" 

But we drove through the actual town, and it seemed very nice and more geared towards residents.  I'd love to explore the whole area sometime.  There were many big old houses, and lots of rolling countryside.

 Do you love General Tso's/Orange chicken, but don't have the money to order take-out?  I mentioned this before, but it's pretty easy to make at home.  Cut up chicken into chunks (white or dark meat, as preferred), dip in beaten egg, dip in coating of your choice (I used a store-bought chicken breading mix, but you can do flour and bread crumbs) - double-dipping each piece will make it crispier -, then fry in a pan using the fat of your choice (I used corn oil).  Toss with an entire bottle of store-bought sauce.  Not at all healthy, but it's certainly delicious!

  Because I'm running out of time, and can think of nothing else very interesting...let me just share a little tidbit with those of you who might not be familiar with the phenomenon of an unenclosed basement toilet (or "Pittsburgh potty" as I've heard them called).  I'm not sure if this is common outside Pittsburgh or not, but I've certainly seen (and used) my share of them around here.  They tend to be in older houses, and I have suspicions that in some cases, these may have once been the *only* toilets in the house.  Nowadays they usually serve as a backup in case of emergencies (the regular toilet is broken, someone's hogging the bathroom and you really gotta go...).

Some people hang a curtain in front of them, or build a little wooden surround kind of like a stall in a public bathroom.  At our house, whoever originally put in the toilet decided that privacy was for sissies.  It's right at the bottom of the basement stairs so you can be in full view of anyone looking down.  


I reached seven - alright!

Quick Takes is hosted at Conversion Diary

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Our Lady of Fatima and the Communion of Saints

Some recent musings...

I recently picked up a small book about Our Lady of Fatima.  It's a pretty basic overview of the story of Fatima (when Mary appeared a number of times to three Portuguese children in 1917, giving them important messages for the world), but still the most in-depth account of the apparitions I've personally read.  
As I've been reading, I've been surprised by how many times the children were reminded of the great need to make sacrifices for sinners: "In all that you can, offer God a sacrifice in reparation for the sins with which He is offended and in supplication for the conversion of sinners."

They took this message very seriously, and for the rest of their lives (very short ones, in the case of Jacinta and Francisco), found many ways to offer sufferings for this purpose.  The book shares a few examples of some of the simple ways they found to do this: giving their lunch to poor children (and thus being hungry themselves for most of the day), not taking a drink of water even when they were very thirsty, and wearing a length of rope tied around their waists (under the clothes, almost like a hair shirt).
One line in the book mentioned that the children "acquired a very lively understanding of the admirable dogma of the Communion of the Saints."  This refers to the teaching that the Catholic Church is made up of three parts: those souls who are in heaven (the "Church Triumphant"), those in Purgatory who are being purified for Heaven ("The Church Suffering") and those faithful on Earth ("The Church Militant").  I began reflecting on this, particularly on the duties of us members of the Church Militant.  
Of recent years, I've come to see the purpose of life here on earth as basically a battle (hence the term "militant") to save one's own soul and - depending on his Vocation - the souls entrusted to him.  So in my case, I have the duty to help my husband and children get to Heaven as well.  
But thinking of it now in the context of Our Lady's teachings at Fatima, I think I'm understanding for the first time that I also have a real responsibility to all those other souls on earth who are in danger of rejecting God and going to Hell.  
It's so easy to forget about this.  I had come to imagine that the only way I could have a positive impact on other's souls was by being a good apologist for the Church - being able to convince people through logic of the truths of the Faith.  Deciding that wasn't a skill I possessed, I had thought this removed my obligations to all those other sinners on Earth (of which, of course, I am certainly one).  "As long as I'm striving to live a holy life, and teach my children to love God," I thought, "I'm doing what I'm supposed to.  I don't have the time to volunteer for this or that charitable organization...I don't have much money to donate to the missionaries I might like to", etc. etc.  All this time, I wasn't remembering Our Lady's message to us.  I spend so much time lamenting the distressing state of the world and the pervasiveness of sin and corruption as if it's everyone else's fault.  But what have I been doing to offer reparation for these sins?  What graces have I been trying to win for those souls at risk?
Even if I never left my house for the rest of my life, and never spoke to anyone in the world besides my own husband and children, I could still be helping sinners.  It only takes my prayers and sacrifices, offered for their sake. 

...And I should think that if someone was humbly and generously making little sacrifices throughout his life for the sake of God and for other people....he would have a good chance of "getting himself to heaven" in the process.
Although I've been praying it for years, Ihad also forgotten the origin of the prayer [called, appropriately, "The Fatima Prayer"] Mary asked us to include after each decade of the Rosary:
"O my Jesus, forgive us our sins.  Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy"

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Getting the Hang of It

Things flow so much more smoothly and naturally with this second child of ours, just by virtue of us having a much more balanced approach to caring for her.

When Sly was finally four months old, I couldn't *wait* to start him on solid foods.  I thought about it, read about it, planned it out, and talked to every parent I knew about how to do it.  It seemed like such a big deal.  We followed the traditional method: starting with baby rice cereal + breast milk, slowly increasing the proportions of rice for each feeding, introducing one new grain only after a full week has passed (to allow for any allergic reaction), graduating him to "first foods" of jarred pureed veggies, then jarred fruits, etc.

For a $20+  rubber toy, there's no excuse for the fact that my children have been able to suck ALL the spots off Sophie the Giraffe

With Stella, I just sorta shrug and say, "eh - she'll eat solids eventually.  No rush."   I didn't bother to buy any special baby foods for the longest time.  As she's seemed interested, I let her have tastes of whatever I'm eating.  I let her munch on a cracker, gave her a bite of my soup or applesauce or mashed potatoes, or use the food mill to grind down whatever veggies we're eating at dinner.  It's just a lot nicer to not make a huge fuss about it.  I don't think what we're doing is exactly "child-led weaning", but it follows that philosophy much more than the way we did it with Sly.

And as I gain confidence in the way I'm caring for this little girl, the less I think or worry about stuff like that - what specific parenting philosophy or method we may or may not be following [and there are lots of them!  I'm constantly explaining to Tom the meaning of concepts like "child-led weaning", "attachment parenting", "elimination communication", "co-sleeping", "cry-it-out", etc.].  I can just go with what makes sense at the time.

Sleeping anywhere, through anything - alright, second child!

Now, instead of letting my schedule revolve around the baby, Stella has adjusted to fit into the family's schedule.  It's so nice.  My experiences with Sly (my poor little first-born "guinea pig") have helped me to hone my mothering instincts, and now things just come so much more naturally.  Everything's not such a huge deal.

I feel a little bad, because we have a baby calendar for Stella, as we did for Sly.  But I keep forgetting to take note of the exact day she does new things - when she first laughed, rolled over, etc. There are going to be a LOT of the milestone stickers left unused at the end of the year!

We still love you, Stella Bella!