Friday, December 13, 2013

7 Quick Takes (Vol. 35)

- 1-

We're bought our tree last night (I am a staunch supporter of live Christmas trees!), and plan to leave it on the front porch in some water for a little while.  We'll take our time setting it up and decorating, with the goal being to finish before my cookie exchange party, a few days before Christmas.  I'm going to challenge myself to hold off on turning on the lights (vintage-style c7s!) until Christmas Eve, with the party being the only exception.  The tree will still be there all decorated in our dining room, along with various other things around the house...but I want to save the full effect until the end.

When my dad was growing up, his parents sealed off a room of the house and each night after the kids were in bed, they decorated a bit of the room.  Finally, on Christmas Eve, the sheets were pulled down, and the grand scene unveiled, to everyone's delight.  I always wanted to achieve a little bit of that wonder and awe of the "final reveal" in my own home, so this is how we'll try to do it this year.


Advent update: We've been remembering to do our Jesse Tree and Advent wreath each night, and Sly really enjoys them both.  Unfortunately, we don't actually have a Jesse "tree" this year - just the ornaments.  I had had a little artificial tabletop tree for years, and was planning to use that.  When I went to get it out, though, I couldn't find it in any of the bins.  Then I had a faint memory of giving it away to Goodwill last year.  Oops.  So for now, I just have Sly stick each day's ornament into the center of the Advent wreath.  It's good enough.  I'll check the after-Christmas sales for something we can use in the future.


My mom got Stella an adorable Christmas nightgown.  I used to wear nightgowns all the time as a kid, and I'd forgotten how warm and snuggly they are.  Seeing Stella in hers makes me wonder if I should get an adult-sized one to wear (my growing belly is getting too big for most of my pajamas anyways, so I could justify the purchase!).

I thought, "Tom might not be crazy about me wearing an old-fashioned nightgown to bed..." then I thought, "but hey, at least it'd be more feminine than the sweatpants and old running t-shirts I usually sleep in..." and then, "but there's probably a difference between 'feminine' and 'old lady'..."  :-)

So I don't know.  Would it be totally ridiculous?


 It took us over a year to get around to finishing, but we finally re-finished a pretty antique chair we had.  A bachelor friend of ours had picked it from someone's trash on one of his many quests for things to burn as firewood.  I spotted it in his house, and loved it.  I insisted that he should fix it up and make it beautiful again.  Instead, he offered it to me, on the promise that I would do that very thing.

It was a major chore to strip all the old finish off.  My mother-in-law and I spent hours in their freezing garage (we needed ventilation) last year at Thanksgiving working on it.

(whose pants am I wearing?)
Tom and I finally re-stained it in a dark mahogany color, and then stapled on some new fabric.  I think the fabric we chose is very attractive...however, we both agree that it doesn't look quite right on the chair.  We probably should have chosen a deeper shade to match the stain better.  Ah, well....maybe we'll change it again sometime.


I enjoyed John Zmirak's (author of some of my favorite books, "The Bad Catholic's Guides") amusing suggestions for how a non-people person should observe Advent:

- When people say, “Happy Holidays,” respond by saying, “Happy Generic Meaningless Winterfest!” Then explain how the war on Christmas is part of a systematic attack by secularists on all of civil society—culminating in the HHS mandate. Nod solemnly as they back away.

- When someone says “Merry Christmas” even five minutes before sunset on Dec. 24, remind them that “Advent is a season of penance, fasting and prayer, to remind us of the hopeless misery of the human condition that Christ came to rectify—for those who accept Him. But the path is straight, and narrow, and few do travel it.” Then smile and say “But hey, Merry Christmas!”


Sly (age 3) has recently developed some pretty incapacitating fears about being alone on another floor of the house by himself.  I'm not sure how it started - if there was a certain incident, or maybe something suggested by a book or in conversation with someone?  He refuses to go upstairs to fetch things anymore, and if I just need to run to another floor (we have three floors plus the basement, so this is basically one hundred times a day) for something, he insists on following.  It's really frustrating.  We've tried talking about it with him calmly and sensitively, the in-laws tried reading him a bunch of books about "not being afraid" (recycled from when Tom's sister had fears of the dark), we've tried being firm with him and commanding him to stay put while we walk away to just use the bathroom...but nothing has helped so far.  Most of the time, he breaks into tears at the mere suggestion that he go somewhere on his own.  When we ask why he doesn't want to be somewhere alone, he doesn't have an answer.  Any ideas how to help him conquer this??

EDIT: This morning, I had us pray to St. George (right now, Sly is very taken with him, and the story of him fighting the dragon) for Sly to have bravery.  We'll see what effect this might have over time...


I try to use more natural fats when cooking, such as butter and olive oil.  I've read enough about vegetable oils/shortening to at least be motivated to *think* about trying to eliminate them from my cooking.  A while back, Tom and I bought a tub of lard to see what we thought of it.  I really liked it as a substitute until I noticed that it was processed with the nasty preservatives BHA and BHT (which, I believe, are banned in pretty much most countries besides the US).  The main reason I wanted to start cooking with lard was because it's better for you than the hydrogenated oils.  But if they're going to add in the preservatives, it's probably pretty much a wash on the health-factor.

It took us a while to track down - we even went to several independent butchers who we'd assumed would have rendered their own lard, but no luck - until we finally found lard you can buy without the preservatives.   It was at an expensive organic market, so probably not something we can fit into the budget long-term.  I'm thinking of trying to track down some un-rendered pork fat somewhere and just making it myself, because it would likely be cheaper.

Anyways, I highly recommend cooking with lard.  I know it sounds gross at first.  But it's really just the same as any other fat you cook or bake with.  The great part is, it is pretty much flavorless and odorless.  So when you fry things in it, the whole house doesn't get that "frying" smell that sticks around for days.  And when you eat the food, it still has that pleasant crispiness without tasting oily and heavy. 

Quick Takes is hosted at Conversion Diary


  1. Oh, I like the chair! I had a bunch of nightgowns as a girl, but I think for the most part they end up being a bit "old lady" once you're past the teens. :/ I'm 25 wks prego and can still fit into my fleece pjs and a t-shirt. Not super attractive, but comfy. (Although, who am I kidding--that's what I opt for most of the time even when not prego! Poor hubby!)

    I added you via GFC.

  2. I have problems with my older son and our 2 story house. He is fine to stay downstairs by himself but is scared to go upstairs by himself (?). He usually requests a younger brother to go with him. I finally just had to let it go assuming that it is probably some sort of normal childhood developmental (driveyoucrazy) milestone. I vaguely remember you mentioning some time ago about a pinching or poking man that was bothering Sly. Could it have anything to do with that?

    1. Good memory! The "Poking Guy" has not been mentioned for quite some time now, so I don't think it's necessarily that. It seems to be a general fear of some unknown. Sometimes he asks us to come with him "to protect me." We ask him what he needs protection from and he says he doesn't know. ?

  3. Be on the lookout for some not-granny nightgowns! I have a few that really aren't too old ladyish. My MIL gave me a few from Macy's or Saks (so granted, they weren't cheap) that are nice. Even Target occasionally has some cute cotton ones (I like their Gilligan & O'Malley brand). I do have one full length flannel night gown... I use it more as a housecoat (albeit rarely even then) and am really only allowed to wear it on Christmas. But we joke about how much we'll love it when we're 70!

    1. lol! Ok, I'll keep an eye out for different styles. Thanks :-)

  4. Nice job on the chair! And I always used to wear nightgowns when I was yonger, too and like the idea of waering them now, but I prefer to have something on my legs when I walk around at night. Perhaps in the warmer months, I'd have better luck with one. I think Mike would actually prefer the old-fashioned look of a nightgown- ha!

    Just a thought on the Jesse tree (though it really doesn't matter how you do it as long as the kids are getting the lessons)-- I've seen some people cut out a tree and put it on the wall for the kids to affix ornaments to. Then you could just roll it up and save it for the next year. Those big brown rolls of paper are good for that and come in handy for a lot of crafts, as well as wrapping paper that you can have the kids help decorate with stamps or drawings.

  5. I've tried lard, but found that I really prefer coconut oil . . . and reading about your tree plans is interesting - we're sort of doing the opposite: setting up the tree with lights, but only adding the decorations right before Christmas!

  6. We're with Jessica...The lights go on today for St. Lucy but the rest will come at the end.

    Sly is only like 3, right? I know, as your first, it seems like it's time that he should be grown up (I mean kids send their kids off to school at that age, right?). It's not though. When you have several more kids and the youngest is 3 or 4 years old, you'll realize how young it really is. If he wants to follow you, let him. It won't be that long until he's big and brave. Promise. No harm invoking St. George in the meantime.

    I think the fabric is beautiful with the chair. I love that color. Well done.

    1. Lights for St. Lucy makes a lot of sense. Adding all our garlands, and bows, and ornaments is going to take forever, though. So perhaps it's my lazy side decided *not* to wait until the very end for all that. :-D

      I guess it's just tough dealing with Sly's fears now because he used to be fine doing all these things, and it came upon us so suddenly. I just feel like I'm tripping over him several times a day, and he's literally "holding onto my apron strings" constantly. I'll try to have more patience.

  7. I was super afraid of being alone on any floor of the house for a super long time (like even in college I was freaked out by it, but of course by that time, I didn't follow anyone around or burst into tears.) Even to this day, I hate being alone in our house at night and I can't go up to bed before Brian does. It's strange. I will say some prayers for him. I am sure it is frustrating as a mom. Matthew reverts back sometimes, too, and I find I lose my patience quickly. Nowadays I use the "Please watch your brother" trick when I need to run to a different floor and that seems to keep him happy and make him feel like he has a special job. We will see how long that works for!

    I used to wear nightgowns when I was a kid, too, and your post totally made me realize how much I used to love them. But I'd freeze to death. I recently ordered a grown up pair of pjs (cotton pants and cotton button down top) from Victoria's Secret (major sale and gift cards!) because I felt like the sweats and torn up hoodies weren't cutting it anymore. Brian seemed okay with the switch. If I wouldn't freeze, a nightgown would totally be the way to go. Maybe in the Spring. Thanks for the reminder! :)

    Love the Jesse Tree tradition. We may try and start it next year. And I am so tempted to reply to someone tomorrow, "Happy Generic Meaningless Winterfest!" But then that'd probably make me uncharitable since I personally would be doing it for the waaay wrong reasons. But it sure points out the absurdity to Happy Holidays! Really? What does that mean? Or as Matthew would say, "That doesn't make sense, does it?!"

    Happy Advent!

    1. Thanks for the prayers for Sly.

      Having cold legs is my one real hesitation on the nightgown question...I could wear pajama pants underneath, but that might defeat the purpose!

      I agree about the meaningless of "happy holidays" - it's tempting to ask, "to which holiday are you referring?"

    2. So a waitress the other night said, "Happy Holidays." To which I actually replied, "Happy meaningless Winterfest." The look on her face was priceless. And then I felt bad so we tipped her well and now I have a great, lovely story about my uncharitableness for confession. But I could not resist. It just sounds so silly to say "Happy Holidays." We are all so worried about not offending anyone that Christians, especially Catholics these days, are usually offended all of the time. Anyways, when it happened I was like, "I have to tell Christine." lol

  8. Oh man, #5 is my favorite! Totally forwarding that to my husband, he's absolutely that type of person :P

    And lard! I'm so curious - I'm totally with you, and I try to save bacon grease as much as possible for cooking because it makes everything taste sooooo good, but I'm totally getting lard if I can find some that doesn't look awful!


  9. I am so excited to be able to have live Christmas trees again. We tried it a few times when I was little but they aggrevated my mom's allergies so we had to switch back to artificial. Our tree is up and decorated and honestly I like having it done. If Christmas Eve was free and we could do it then that would be great too, but we will have family in town, lots of baking to do etc. If Advent is a time to prepare your home (and hearts) for Christ's coming then decorating the tree is how we prepare. And preparing incrementally is how I stay sane.

    I haven't been able to find good lard either. I still buy the kind with preservatives to use for pie crusts, but otherwise I mainly use coconut oil. Also expensive, but at least it's available at most of the places I shop.

    1. I definitely agree about not waiting until the very end to decorate the tree! I would get so stressed out if I had to do it all on Christmas Eve. That's why my plan is to get everything up on the tree - lights included - but just refrain from actually plugging them in until the end. Haha - that way, I'm all ready to go and don't have to worry about rushing anything on Christmas Eve, but can still aintain a least a bit of the "waiting until the end" attitude :-D