Thursday, February 28, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 26)

Tax season is always exciting for me these days.  I don't have to do my own taxes anymore (my mother-in-law does them for a living, so takes care of filing for us!), and I can usually expect a pretty hefty refund.  This year, for the first time ever, we're even getting a refund from the state.  I've never even heard of that before (it probably means we're just especially poor.  haha..)

Since we've been married, we've been throwing all our "extra" money towards paying off my student loans.  All our wedding gift money (which was a lot, since we didn't create a registry), and most of our yearly tax refunds have gone towards the loans.  And finally, with this year's refund, I am ecstatic to say that my loans are COMPLETELY paid off!  It's an amazing feeling.  I never thought I'd see the end of them!

So what's the deal with green smoothies?  I know they're trendy right now, and it sounds like a good way to get more fruits and vegetables in your diet.  Since I'm trying to do that, I thought, "ooh!  I'll just make one green smoothie a day, and I'm set!"  But then I looked up some recipes.  Ok...I don't know what I thought a green smoothie actually was, but...I guess I didn't realize that what most of them are is basically "delicious-sounding sweet drink with a handful of spinach thrown in."  I like spinach and all, but it doesn't seem like a food that could so seamlessly blend into anything.  Take for example the "chocolate peanut butter smoothie with spinach".  Does this sound gross to anyone else??  I do enjoy eating fresh strawberries on spinach salads, I could see how *maybe* it tastes good in certain fruit smoothies.

Anyone have a recommended recipe that's beginner-friendly (and doesn't involve any ingredients that are too expensive/weird)?

I can.not.WAIT. until daylight savings time.  The kids have been waking up with the sun each morning, and Mommy is just not capable of dragging herself out of bed that early.  Sly has hit a new level of annoyingness in the mornings in his attempts to wake me up.  Last night, I asked Tom to hide Sly's drum (the "real drum" we had naively given him as a Christmas gift) so he couldn't use it (again) to wake me up.  But this morning, I awoke to Sly sitting right next to my head and banging on the drum, which he must have purposely gone looking for.

I've long been amused by lists of kids games to play while sitting/lying down.  Recently, in my attempts to milk out a few more minutes of rest in the morning, I've been inventing some of my own.  Sly's favorite so far is "scavenger hunt."  I'll give him an assignment: "find something red", "find something soft", "find a book about a bunny", and he happily carries it out.  Sometimes he's gone for a while... ;-)

If anyone attends or is interested in attending the Tridentine Mass (in Latin), you might be looking for a traditional missal.  Tom recently became quite taken with one he saw online, the Campion Missal.  Many new illuminations and images were commissioned for this book, and it includes a large section of hymns and chants at the back.  It seems as if the intention is for it to be bulk-ordered by parishes to serve as pew missals, but at only $23 for one, we plan to get our own copy.  It's just too beautiful to pass up!
This picture "borrowed" from Fr. Z's very positive review of the missal

Saw this on Facebook...
The first time and the last
Pope Benedict XVI
19 April 2005 - 28 February 2013

Thanks to all who participated in my recent giveaway.  You can still get a discount of $10 on My Memories Suite Scrapbook software and a $10 coupon for the My Memories store.
Promo code: STMMMS91714

Quick Takes is hosted at Conversion Diary

Saturday, February 23, 2013

One Day Left - Digital Scrapbooking Giveaway!

I'm guessing a lot of my readers are limiting their blog-reading during Lent, so I wanted to post a reminder aout the great giveaway I'm hosting for My Memories digital scrapbooking software in case some of you missed it the first time around.

See my post here to read about this great program, and enter for a chance to win one of your own!  Giveaway ends Sunday at midnight.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

How To Be a Gracious Hostess

 Let me say this upfront: I am a bad hostess.  But I'm learning.

So often when we've had guests over in the past (whether for dinner, a party, or to spend the night), I find myself getting stressed out over very selfish things: they're making a wreck of my house!  They're eating all my food!  They're taking forever in the bathroom and I really really want a shower now!

Slowly, I am starting to learn what true hospitality means.  It's much more than just allowing people into your home.  It means learning to generously share your home and your possessions.  There's a skill to it.  You need to show your guests how welcome they are, and how happy you are to have them.

Here are the two biggest tips that I've discovered:

1. RELAX, and let your guests treat your house like their home.
Before guests arrive, I spend the day making sure the house is cleaned and tidied, all the laundry is done, and the pantry is stocked.  In other words, I bring my house to an artificially high standard of cleanliness, and then unrealistically desire it to stay that way the entire time friends are visiting.  I've found myself literally following guests around with a broom and dustpan, cleaning up crumbs as they make them; or washing every dish the second it's done being used.  [Some of you reading this may have first hand experience with this, and I want to offer an apology.  How extremely rude and unwelcoming I was!]

If I'm trying to impress people with how clean it is....well, that's silly.  They're either friends or family, so it doesn't really matter to them - they won't be judging me by my abilities as a housekeeper.  Guests feel more welcome in a messy home with a generous hostess than in an immaculate one ruled over by someone behaving neurotically.

Anytime people are relaxed and enjoying themselves, some mess is expected.  It's ok.

2. "Bring out the good china"
I mean this both literally and figuratively. 

We've only had an actual set of matching china for a short time (purchased cheaply on Craigslist, mostly so I had something to fill the new china cabinet), but when we got it I resolved that I would actually use it.  Nice serving pieces don't do anyone any good if all they do is sit in the cabinet looking pretty and gathering dust. 

It's easy to fall into the trap of saving these things for a "special occasion" or for "really important guests."  But who's more important to us than our close family or our most intimate friends?  I know we don't need to impress these people.  But that really isn't the purpose of our nice things - aren't they meant to be used to show people that you respect and care for them?  The people who are our most frequent guests are probably the people who mean the most to us - shouldn't any meal you invite them to be treated as a "special occasion"?  So break out the good plates, the nice cloth napkins and tableclothes!  Guests will appreciate the effort you make for them. 

I just thought of this, but when I offer friends coffee or tea, I really ought to serve them in one of my many fancy teacups, instead of just the chipped everyday mugs from the cabinet.

About four years ago, I bought a bottle of mulled wine at a winery.  It was summertime, so I decided to save it for a nice winter night when I could warm it up and share it with friends...but not too many friends, because a bottle of wine is really only enough for three or four people...and it would have to be just the right grouping of close friends...and it would have to be snowy and cold out when we drank it...and so on and so on.  I came up with such unobtainable plans for this stupid bottle of wine, that it ended up sitting on the wine rack on top of the fridge for years.  The label peeled off, and the thing was covered with dust that was glued in place by cooking-oil-laden kitchen air.  Tom kept pressuring me to just drink the dang thing and get it out of the house.  Finally, some friends invited us to dinner, and asked us to bring a "wintery drink."  It wasn't exactly the scenario I had dreamed up, but I brought the wine with me.  And guess what? It didn't taste very good anymore.  Despite that, the four of us still had a good time just observing the ritual of sharing a bottle of warm mulled wine on a chilly day.  I definitely learned a lesson from this, and have since tried to put it in practice. 

Don't save things, waiting for the perfect occasion.  If you have a good friend over, pull out the cookies saved in your freezer, the bottle of nice whiskey...whatever it is you're tempted to save or hoard, because this is the occasion you've been saving them for!  I guarantee you will have more fun sharing it with friends than consuming it all alone in front of the television.

So there's my bit of wisdom, only learned very recently.  I'm still not a very good hostess, but I'm trying.  Does anyone else have stories or tips about showing hospitality?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Domestic Goddess

"The Domestic Goddess honors her position in the home.  She looks upon her career in the home as the most important career in the world.  Creating a happy marriage and family life and raising honorable children are the greatest contributions she can make to the well-being of society.  Even though she does nothing more than live her daily life, if she does it well it is of immeasurable value.  No success compares to the success in the home; no failure a worse failure."
~ from Fascinating Womanhood, by Helen Andelin

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

My Memories Digital Scrapbooking Software GIVEAWAY

I never got into the scrapbooking craze that seemed to sweep through the world of womankind a while back.  I know some people who spend a lot of time creating scrapbooks or memory books, and the results can be really beautiful and impressive.  But it's such an intimidating hobby.  It seems like you have to buy so much "stuff" to do it well, and that it would take a huge amount of time and levels of creativity that I don't possess.

But I didn't realize there was another way to approach it.  Recently I had a chance to try out MyMemories digital scrapbooking software, and it really couldn't be easier.  I figured out the basics right away, and there is still so much to discover on the program.

 I love that the projects you make are totally customizable in every way.  You can start from scratch or start with a template (which is what I did) - but even with a template, you are able to move, flip, delete, add, etc. any of the page elements.  The software comes with plenty of background papers and embellishments, but you can also purchase additional options on the website. 

 Here's an example of an empty template
A few months ago, I spent a frustrating four hours trying to create a very simple photobook on one of the popular photo-printing sites.  I felt like I could never get things to look just how I wanted, and basically decided I would never attempt one again.  But MyMemories is very user-friendly.  I will definitely use this if I want to make another photobook down the road.  I already have a number of good gift ideas for the grandparents. 

Aside from scrapbooks, the software can be used to make cards, videos set to music (I haven't tried this yet), and even custom cupcake wrappers!  I'll bet I could even use it to create a blog header, something I struggled mightily to do with Paint.

I've been playing with it a little bit, and here are just a couple pages that I put together.

 I love how this turned out.  The pictures are some of Tom's ancestors.  He had the idea to make it look like someone had used a typewriter to write an entry in the book.  The picture with the rowboat was black-and-white instead of sepia-tone like the wedding photo.  But with the click of a button, we were able to change it to match!

And of course I had to design a baby book/birth announcement page for Stella, my fast-growing little girl.  See all the fun little embellishments you can add?  I used a button to disguise the lamp in the top photo.

I am pleased to be able to offer a discount on this program:
$10 off the purchase of the My Memories Suite Scrapbook softward and a $10 coupon for the store
Use Promo Code: STMMMS91714.
(Also, if you check out the My Memories blog, they frequently post additional freebies and discounts.)

Enter for a chance to win your own My Memories Suite Scrapbook software for free :-)

Rules: Go to and browse some of the optional templates/paper packs.  Leave a comment letting me know which one is your favorite.  Next week, I'll pick an entry at random. 
(Entry ends midnight eastern time on Sunday the 24th.)

(Sorry I'm not up on the times with a cool Rafflecopter giveaway It costs a fee to subscribe to the service, and we just can't fit in in the budget.)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 25)

This was supposed to be posted yesterday, but I wasn't able to go online.  Thanks to several suggestions on my Lenten post, I've decided that on Wednesdays and Fridays, I will "fast" from all internet use (except a few e-mail checks).  On the other days of the week, I will limit my use to naptimes, bedtime, or other child-free moments.  I don't want the internet taking me away from my kids anymore.

Like many others, I was shocked and saddened by Monday's news of Pope Benedict XVI deciding to resign.  He has done a lot of good for the Church during his short pontificate, and I was hoping he'd have many more years to continue.  We need to pray for him and his successor.

I love seeing all the little reminders around my house that children live here.

the "trappings of childhood" - they warm my heart

Sly is really into doing crafts right now.  It's a good way to keep him entertained and out of trouble in that time between breakfast and lunch.  But I'm running out of ideas.  I do remember a lot of crafts I did in preschool or kindergarten, but we've already done most of the ones that are toddler-appropriate.  The others will have to wait a couple years.  I've started keeping a little Pinterest board for some ideas I've come across, but I could use more.  If anyone has a good idea or link, I'd love if you shared it with me!

Here's one I found on Pinterest.  Sly loves changing it each day.

Speaking of toddler distractions...something I've discovered that Sly LOVES to do is put away the silverware into the proper slots in the drawer.  When he wants to "help" me do something in the kitchen that he's not really capable of yet, I tell him, "actually, Sly, I could use some help putting away the silverware." There's always some in the drying rack, so he happily puts them away while I finish up the task I was doing.  Win-win.

We've had a rough time with Stella at night.  From one month old, Sly started sleeping through the night, and we never had an issue after.  Stella seemed to be following the same pattern for awhile.  But at about four months old, she suddenly began waking many many times each night, screaming and inconsolable.  It was a grueling and exhausting time for me, and I kept thinking of writing about it here, then hesitating - I mean, who wants to hear about someone else's baby's sleep problems? 

We were leaving Mass a few weeks ago, and a woman who I have talked with a couple times came up to ask about Stella, and specifically how she was sleeping (moms always ask other moms about that!).  I admitted that things had been pretty bad in that department.  Then she asked, simply, "have you prayed about it?"  And I just paused.  No. No I had not.  Way to go, Christine.  Something that was becoming a real and constant trouble in my life, but I hadn't even thought to ask for help.  How many times has this happened to me?  Why haven't I learned by now?  I just keeping trying to deal with some burden as it gets worse and worse, assuming there's nothing to be done.  I forget that I can bring anything - even something as "normal" and "expected" as a baby who doesn't like to sleep through the night - to God.  So I began praying about it.  And it has gotten better. 

For Valentine's Day, my mother-in-law gave me some cute new kitchen towels (Martha Stewart brand, so I'm guessing they came from Macy's?). 

Tom gave me roses - he still thinks fresh flowers are a really stupid gift, but I've finally convinced him that I really do enjoy them.  Both of us completely forgot to make each other homemade cards, something we did last year with the intention of continuing it as a yearly tradition!  We gave ourselves an "extension", though, and we'll exchange tomorrow instead. 

Quick Takes is hosted at Conversion Diary

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pierogi Party!

A couple weeks back, we invited some friends over to make pierogies with us.  I've eaten plenty of Mrs. T's and similar frozen ones in my lifetime, but have never actually had a homemade one before (despite being from Pittsburgh, I have no Eastern European ancestry).

It helps to have a lot of people making them at once, which is why a lot of people hold parties for making them.  The process was much easier than I expected, and we all figured managed to figure it out with no previous experience.  I made all the dough.  I used this recipe, and I think I ultimately made six batches worth. It was simple, easy to work with, and tasty (but as I had to yell at one of the men when he took a crack at mixing - "don't overwork the dough!!").  I had each friend/couple who attended bring one bowl of a filling of their choosing. 

We ended up with: potato+cheese, potato+onion, potato+garlic, smoked chipotle sweet potato, potato and walnut cream cheese, and prune.

rolling out the dough, cutting it with a shot glass, and rolling again

Tom and Rosemary manning the filling station

sealing up the pierogies

At the end of the afternoon, we cooked up a big batch and got to taste them all.  And everyone was sent home with about thirty-five pierogies for their freezers.  They'll be a great meat-free food for Lent.  I hope to make this a yearly tradition!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Lenten Planning

Ash Wednesday kicks off Lent next week, so I'm working out a plan for observing the season and whipping myself into better spiritual shape.

For a month now, I've been slowly working through Maria Von Trapp's (yes, that Maria Von Trapp.  The real-life would-be-nun who was portrayed in The Sound of Music) book, Around the Year With the Trapp Family.  The book discusses how their family lives out the seasons of the Church - the Liturgical year - so fully and beautifully.  It is absolutely the BEST book I've ever come across on the subject, very much based on tradition, and I highly recommend it to any Catholic.

Anyways, in her section on Lent, she has a suggestion that I thought was worthwhile:
It is important that Lenten resolutions do not use the negative approach only, such as, "I won't do this" and "I won't do that."  They should start positively, with "I will use these three books" (this as soon as the child can read); "I will use the time I save by abstaining from television for this and this...."  "I will use the money I save by not going to the movies for alms given to...." (pg. 102)

So here's what I'm thinking:

1. Food
One year, while we were still dating, Tom and I both followed the Lenten fast  used by Byzantine Catholics (they call it the "Great Fast") .  It's much more hardcore than we modern Roman Catholics are used to.  You have to abstain from all meat, dairy, and eggs.  Basically, you're vegan for all of Lent, plus they give up wine and olive oil on most days as well.  It was rewarding, but definitely difficult.  I got really sick of potatoes and rice.  And I have to say that I've been happy to have the "pregnant" or "breast feeding" excuse these past few years to convince Tom that it's a bad year to attempt it again.  I do want to make some food-related sacrifice this year, though.

So I am going to give up "junk food".  This probably sounds like "Lent 101", but...I have a major sweet-tooth, and have let myself fall into many bad dietary habits of late.  Not a day passes that I don't have a dessert.  This is going to be grueling.  Also, I don't plan to give up eating between meals entirely.  If I'm really hungry (hey, I'm still breastfeeding - cut me some slack!) I can have something healthy like fruit or yogurt.

I'd like to also add some additional "meatless" days to our weekly meal plans, since we already abstain from meat every Friday of the year.

Following Maria Von Trapp's advice, let me turn this positive:  "With the empty space in my hungry tummy where junk food would have gone, I will instead make sure to eat "at least one fruit and one vegetable a day."  Yes, I know.  How completely pathetic is this?  I have totally different standards for what I let Sly eat and what I let myself eat.  It's not that I hate healthy food, but...I am a raging carb-oholic...what can I say?? 

2.  Internet
I haven't fully worked this one out yet, but I know I need to seriously limit my internet usage.  Throughout the day, anytime I pass the computer [we still have an old-fashioned desktop, partially for the reason that I know a laptop/tablet/smart phone, etc. equipped with the internet would be the hugest temptation to idleness imaginable for me], I have to stop by to "check my e-mail".  This often translates to spending twenty minutes browsing Facebook, linking through internet articles, blogs, etc. and only being torn away because one of my children makes it clear that they need me now.

It's a really bad habit, and I know I need to nip it in the bud.  My problem is trying to figure out the best method for "fasting" from internet use.  I might keep the possibility of "limited access" Facebook open to me, since there are certain people I can only contact through there, etc.  It's my mindless scrolling through the newsfeed that's the main problem.   As for blogs, I don't see any problems with the amount of time I spend writing entries for my own, especially since they're mostly written while the kids are asleep and thus not taking me away from my mothering responsibilities.  What can become a problem is all the time devoted to reading the many other blogs which I so love.

Should I limit certain things entirely (e.g. no blog-reading at ALL during Lent) or just limit myself time-wise (e.g. only half an hour a day reading blogs, and only after the kids are in bed)?  My husband fears - and he might be right - that if I don't let myself read any during Lent, I'll feel the need to "catch up" after Easter.  And that would be bad.  I still need to work this one out.  I'm open to suggestions!

I know that the positive practice I want to replace my excessive internet-browsing with is prayer, for sure.  I'm going to nudge Tom to finally resume a daily family Rosary.  I'd like to add something else as well.  Perhaps I can carve out an hour a week to leave the kids with Daddy and go to Adoration for the first time in...three years?

As I finished writing all this, I began to wonder whether it was appropriate to share all of this.  Our Lenten sacrifices are very personal and specific to us, after all.  But it will help to hold me accountable, having put it in writing and informed people of my intentions.  So I feel comfortable with this.

Monday, February 4, 2013

For Downton Abbey Fans

I was alerted to the existence of a couple Jimmy Fallon parodies of the show.  There were a few jokes that don't work out too well, but both videos definitely provoked some laughs. Give them a watch when you have about fifteen minutes to spare.


I thought the actresses imitating O'Brien and the Dowager Countess did an especially convincing impression. Also, I was giggling all night about the "middle daughter" and her name.

What are your favorite parts?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Whether To Have Your Kids Use "Mr." and "Mrs."

completely unrelated picture of Stella on a "laptop"

Before Sly actually started talking, I had decided that I'd like him to use formal titles for certain adults.  I hoped to have him to call his relatives Aunt Kelley or Uncle Alex and to refer to our adult friends as Mr. and Mrs. so-and-so, instead of just using everyone's first names.  Thus far, we've completely neglected to actually teach Sly to do this.  As I said to Tom the other night,  I like the idea of having our kids use these titles "in theory", but it's actually fairly difficult in practice.

As I've mused about before, I do believe that social conventions of this era are woefully informal.  Using titles as simple as "Mr". and "Mrs." for your elders connotes and breeds greater respect for them, instead of putting everyone on the same level.  I really do like the idea of it.

It's a difficult practice to start, though.  Neither Tom nor I grew up doing this.  Our relatives were all just called by first names.  And as for my parent's adult friends (or, similarly, the parents of my childhood friends)...well, I'm not sure about Tom, but I know that as a child I basically did everything possible to avoid having to address them directly for the very reason that I didn't know the appropriate way to do so!  My parents never taught me what to do.  It was often awkward, because a few kids might automatically call some friends' mom "Mrs. Jones", but some of us weren't comfortable saying it - not having been brought up that way - so we would avoid having to say her name at all.  I don't want my kids to have that same confusion.

But habits are just so hard to break.  It seems weird and forced to refer to our friends as Mr., Miss, or Mrs. instead of their first names, as we've done for years.  And now that Sly already knows them by all their first names, we'd have to fight a protracted battle to get him to change.  For a little while in the beginning, I was obstinately referring to my three brothers as "Uncle whoever" when Sly was around.  But they continuously scoffed at it, insisting that Sly just call them by their first names, and I finally gave in.

I know that if it was important enough to us that Sly use titles for adults, then we would just buckle down and teach him.  But Tom doesn't feel very strongly about it either way, and I'm not sure if I feel strongly enough to both make Tom get on board and fight against the tide and make it happen.

What do you think?  Did you use titles like "Mr. and Mrs." for adults as a kid?  Are you teaching your kids to do it?  Is it worth it?