Monday, June 30, 2014

New House Tour: Boys' Room

We're been in the new place for almost three months now, so it's probably time to start giving people a look around.  I'm going to start with Sly's room, since his is the most "completed" at this point.   Most of the rest of the house still has a long way to go.  I sometimes feel like I'm stepping around piles of sandpaper, paint cans, putty knives, and screwdrivers everywhere I go....

For the sake of being "real", I didn't clean up the room before I took the pictures.  Cleaning the room is Sly's job anyways these days (yesss!), and I let him get away with things being less tidy than "perfect".  These pictures won't look magazine-worthy by any means, but that's my life!

**As I give my little tour, I'll try to point out where various items came from.  I think a theme should develop, and I hope to help convince people that you can find some really cool things when you shop secondhand! **

Linus is testing out the rug

Sly's bedroom - which will be "the boys' room" once Linus grows up a bit - is up on the third floor.  The sloped ceilings provide a lot of visual interest, but unfortunately, cut waaaaay down on the available wall space for hanging decorations.  And we'll probably never be able to put bunkbeds in here unless we decide to block the windows.  Thankfully, it's a very large room, and I'm pretty sure we can fit at least four twin-size beds along the walls, should we ever have the need.

Over the years, I've collected a number of "ship" paintings and decorations.  I'm just attracted to the romance of big sailing ships.  We decided to put them all in Sly's room, and give the room a sorta ship/map/travel/world explorer theme! 

The previous owner had painted the room a funky paint scheme of dark blue, light blue, and orange-yellow trim.  It ended up looking great with our decorations.

These prints were a Christmas gifts from Tom's sister, who had apparently grown so tired of hearing me go into raptures about how much I loved them every time we visited her house, that she just took them off the wall and wrapped them up for me!
Last week, we hung a curtain rod over the window, and I have some really cool ship-printed fabric that I'm going to make into curtains.  I'll try to post a picture once they're up.

We found a map-printed duvet cover (bought online, to cover Tom's threadbare childhood comforter) for the bed (given away by a friend).

The map in the photo below is just a one-yard cut of fabric I found in the quilting section at Joann Fabrics.  I hemmed the edges, and we just nailed it to the wall.  We found the decorative ship's wheel at Goodwill. 

The heater was left by the previous owner, and we haven't moved it yet.  I do not feel safe with it staying in a little kid's room!  

On the bookshelf (bought at garage sale) is a statue of Mary (gift from my mom) - who is also known as the "Star of the Sea", which is the Marian title our daughter Stella Maris is named after, so even she fits the theme! -, a cool ship nightlight (thrift store), and a wooden plane (from Tom's childhood).  And a huge pile of books below, because stuffing them into the shelf is how Sly cleans them up.  Better than nothing.

My aunt was giving away this child-size desk which we still need to find a chair for.  On top are two light-up globes (flea market, thrift store), a railroad tie (found near railroad tracks), and other little things Sly has been given from here and there.

Another shot with Linus still chilling on the floor.

Below we have some metal planes (also from Tom's childhood), an armchair (given away by a priest friend) perfect for reading or nursing babies - do you see the arm covers on the floor? Why do kids have a compulsion to rip them off all the time? -, and a map of Pennsylvania (bought by Tom in a shop in New Orleans during our honeymoon while I was at the hotel taking a nap) which I think is kind of ugly, so we compromised by putting it in Sly's room :-)

This photo below can't convey the massiveness of the closet.  Sly's dresser fits in there easily, with plenty of room left for storage.  It extends all the way to the slanted wall on the right. 

A word about the dresser - my dad trash-picked it for us a year ago.  We sanded off the old peeling finish, and Tom re-finished it with shellac (which is an old-fashioned finish which comes from the shells of beetles (hence the name)).  I think it looks like a million bucks now! 

Near the door is another cool ship picture (Goodwill), and a kid-size guitar (trash-picked).  Sly can't play it yet, but his dad has big dreams :-)

Oh, and there's an icon of St. George over the door.  George is Sly's middle name.  It's impossible to find anything with St. Sylvester!

Hope you enjoyed the tour, and that I have something else to show soon.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Pretty Things: Dresses and Blossoms of Orange

I've been hearing a lot of good things about eShakti around the internet recently, so I was very pleased to get a chance to try out one of their dresses.

They have a huge inventory - mostly dresses and skirts.  One of the best features is that their clothes are completely customizable, if you're looking for something a little different.  You can change the neckline, hemline, sleeve length, etc. to suit your style.  AND the dresses have pockets!

The quality is good, and the prices are reasonable, though more than what I'd usually spend for clothes.  Ok, let's be honest, pretty much the only clothes I buy these days come from thrift stores.  But if in the future I have a special event to go to or some birthday gift-money burning a hole in my pocket, I would absolutely consider another eShakti dress.

Here's the dress I picked.  It's custom-fit since I did specify all my exact measurements, but I did not choose to change the shape at all from the original style.  I love the dress, though if I did it again, I'd probably have the sleeves cut to cover the shoulders a little more.

Why no, my skin has not seen sunlight for months...why do you ask?
I picked out a lovely orange summery dress.  I knew it would be smarter to look for a style that I could actually nurse a baby in...but the few dresses that seemed conducive to nursing were just not "calling my name."  People have told me that orange is a good color on me, but it's difficult to find nice-looking orange clothing (at least in the thrift stores).  I saw this pretty orange dress, and just had to get it.

I really don't have much of a waist, but this dress makes it look like I do - ha!

The shape is simple, but the dress is very well-made of sturdy soft cotton.  I love the big tucks along the bottom of the skirt.

I have a few weddings to attend in the late summer/early fall, and this should be perfect!

Check out eShakti on:


There is an ugly bush/tree thing in our backyard that's been on my mental "hit list" for the garden since we first moved in.  We decided that this summer, we're not doing anything with the outside of the house or the yard, since we already have so many projects to deal with inside.  We're going to give everything this one summer to grow and bloom and defend its right to stay.  But this particular plant was so unattractive that I had already decided it would have to come out next spring. 

And then it bloomed.  It turns out it's a mock orange, which makes very attractive little mock orange blossoms.
But you can still see the ugly shape underneath!
Last week, I went out each morning to cut off some flowers to put in containers around the house.  I gave several bunches of the blossoms away to friends as gifts.  I love having fresh flowers around.

So now I'm torn.  Does one week of beautiful flowers make up for fifty-one weeks of having a scrubby bush-tree thing taking up space in our yard?

One more thing to consider:  Our elderly next-door neighbor has lived in their house since she was a girl.  She told us that her father had planted a whole row of mock oranges along the property line, and this one is the only one left (though it seems it was actually on our side of the line, based on where the fence got put in).  She surely has a sentimental attachment to it, which I do respect....But she's not the one who has to deal with it!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Perfect Pie Crust: Revisited

I wrote two years ago about my search for a really good pie crust recipe.  I hate to say it, but the search goes on...

About once a year, I settle on a new recipe for my pie crusts.  I've just started using yet another recipe.  But I'm still not satisfied.  I still don't feel like I've found the perfect one. 

The key factor in pie crusts seems to be what sort of fat you use: butter, shortening, or lard.  I've also heard good things about recipes that incorporate vodka (which, as it evaporates during cooking, produces a nice flaky texture). 

I've had success with shortening recipes.  They're typically easy to work with and reliable.  Most just don't seem to have a really memorable flavor. 

Some people swear by all-butter crusts.  The difficult thing with them, though, is that you have to keep the butter and all the implements you are using very very cold.  Many of the pies I bake are during the summertime (when fruits are ripe), and since we don't have air conditioning, keeping things cold is impossible.

Here's what our usually-solid coconut oil looked like today, when the temperature was in the high 80's: total liquid.

[note that it's still unopened.  I've never used actually coconut oil before, but I know a lot of people love it, and it was a great price.  So what should I do with it?]

My cousin shared her secret for great butter crusts: she keeps her butter in the freezer.  Sounds like a smart idea. If anyone has a great all-butter crust recipe, please share it!  I'll try it out when the weather cools off.


The last couple times I baked a pie, I tried out a new lard-based recipe (lard is totally not as gross as it sounds.  I cook with it often, and it's very versatile) from my ever-reliable 1969 Betty Crocker's Cookbook. 

8- or 9-inch Two-crust Pie
2 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
2/3 c. lard
4-5 T. cold water

Mix flour and salt in bowl.  Cut in lard.  Sprinkle in water, and mix until dough almost cleans sides of bowl.  Shape into two balls and roll out on floured surface.

Tom loves this crust, and my Dad thought highly of it as well.  I will say, the texture is pleasantly crispy and flaky.  But I still think it could be better!


Not matter what recipe I use, there are a few tools I've found indispensable for making a good crust: a cloth to roll the dough on, a stockinet cover for the rolling pin, and a pie crust shield for baking.

Allow me to step you through my process....

I use a clean linen dish towel as my rolling surface, floured generously.  The dough does not stick at all.  Try it sometime!  And the rolling pin covers are really cheap.  You can usually find them at gourmet-type stores (or online, of course).

Always pat the dough into a flat circle with your hands before rolling.  This gives you a much more evenly-shaped crust.

As you pick up the crust, roll it over the rolling pin to transfer it to your pie pan.

And then fill the bottom crust with whatever.  Today I made a beef stew pie with my leftovers from last week. 

Have you ever done this?  I purposely make a lot of beef stew so that we will have leftovers and I can make this pie.  Beef stew always tastes better a few days later, because the flavors have had time to mingle.

A rough recipe for beef stew pie:  
Scoop just the "chunks" (the beef and veggies) into the pie crust.  
Reserve the sauce to heat and pour on at the table as gravy (you may have to stir in some cold water+ flour while it heats, if it's too thin).  
Put the top crust on, and bake at 450° for 35-40 minutes (cover the crusts until the last 15 minutes).

After you roll out and crimp the top crust, use the leftover dough to create fun decorations (or allow an eager child to help).

 I just use a fork to crimp the edge, cut a few vent-holes in the top, and let Sly place the decorations.

Then comes the ever-important pie crust shield (which I remove 15 minutes before cooking time is over) to keep the edges from burning.

 And it's ready to serve!  (al fresco tonight, since having the oven at 450° really warmed up the house).


Do you have any pie crust tips or secrets to share?

Monday, June 16, 2014

My Mother's Premonition

My mom, who is a fallen-away Catholic, has been consulting her astrological chart and is convinced that she's going to die "sometime before Christmas, probably before Thanksgiving."  She says her premonitions are almost always correct.

She just revised her will.  She is writing out detailed instructions for me about what to do with all her possessions, and for one of my brothers about how to take care of her house and garden.  She applied for more life insurance.  She bought a gravesite and started payments for her funeral today.

She says she prayed for a sign that she is really going to die, and that she most definitely received one.

I asked her what she's doing to prepare her soul.  She said she doesn't intend to do any "Catholic prayers", but will start meditating again.

And yet she wants a Catholic funeral Mass and will be buried in a Catholic cemetary.

She says, "won't that be unfortunate?  You just moved so you could be closer to me, and I could help you out more with the kids.  It almost seems unfair."

She's completely matter-of-fact about the whole thing.

I just don't know what to make of all this.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Prayers Needed for These Priests!

Tom and I received a text earlier today from our friends in Phoenix - two priests from their church were both seriously injured last night during a break-in to the church.  One of them, Fr. Walker - only 28 years old, died in the hospital.  The other, Fr. Terra (whom we met, a good and holy priest) is in critical condition. Police have not caught the criminal(s).

with Fr. Terra last November

Please keep the priests, their families, and their parishioners in your prayers.

To read more:
Fox News
Rorate Caeli (has some good biographical information about them)

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.. Amen. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

New Perspectives on NFP

I finally got around to reading Simcha's book The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning.

I avoid ever paying full price for a book (I know, I know - it's good to support the author.  But it's also hard to fit in our budget.), and I didn't expect this one to show up in our library anytime soon.  I hoped to borrow it from a friend, but they were all reading Kindle versions (darn that new technology!).  I finally buckled down and bought it on Amazon (it's selling for a really reasonable price, so if you're still curious about it, buy it!) because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

I have to admit, I expected to hate it. Maybe I even wanted to hate it.  Despite all the reviews claiming that Simcha finally spoke the truth about the challenges of NFP instead of rhapsodizing about what a magical beautiful thing it is, I suspected that she must still be secretly "propagandizing" NFP - something I believe to be a legitimate, but often over-rated practice.

I was pleased to discover that this wasn't true.  She spoke a lot of sense in this book, and shared a great deal of wisdom - gained over the years of her marriage.  More than a guide about dealing with the challenges of NFP, I would say that this is a guide to how we fallen humans can live out a Christ-centered marriage.  Even though my husband and I are not using - and never have *really* used - NFP, there was still a lot for me to learn here.

It's an age-old truth, but something which has continually impressed me is the fact that with age and experience often comes wisdom.  Recently, I've gained a bit of understanding on something about NFP that used to baffle me.

I've shared some of my thoughts on NFP before (see here and here), so you might know that I'm pretty down on the way it is is commonly "sold" by Catholics.  I think people want so badly to provide an appealing alternative to contraception (which is always immoral) that they talk up NFP as being a positive thing, rather than the morally neutral tool that it is.  It's kind of like saying, "isn't it awesome that I got sick on Sunday and was dispensed from the obligation to attend Mass?!"  No, actually.  You may have been perfectly sinless in missing Mass, but it kinda sucks that you had to be sick, and I don't think it's anything to be thrilled about - even if it means you finally had a chance to pray five Rosaries.

At least some portion of my distaste for NFP came about because I just could not understand the motivations a lot of people had when deciding they needed to postpone another pregnancy.  Yeah - pregnancy and children are exhausting, but...who said life was supposed to be easy?  The primary purpose of marriage is procreation.  I suspected that NFP was often over-used by Catholics.  I tried very hard never to presume anything about particular people, but something always seemed "off" about the fact that pretty much every couple we heard about seemed to be using NFP to intentionally plan out each of their conceptions.  What ever happened to just accepting babies as they came - even when they came close?  Do you really need to jump right back into charting and postponing the second after you give birth?  Why do the midwives have to write down what sort of family planning I'm going to use at my 6-week post-partum checkup, and why won't they accept my answer when I tell them "none"?  I never understood the fear I sensed in other women over the thought of another pregnancy.

But then I gave birth to my third child.

When my first two kids were born - I mean the moment they were born - my very first emotions were this intense mixture of relief and "joy that a man has been born into this world" (Jn 16:21).  But when my sweet little Linus came out, I just felt numb.  Joyless.  Tom was weeping in happiness, our doula was praising my hard work and smiling at the beautiful baby we helped create, the nurses were all fussing over him.  And there was me just lying there, staring straight ahead.  Stiff with dread.  All I could think was "how many more times?  How many more times do I have to go through pregnancy?  Through labor and childbirth?  I don't want to do this for the next fifteen years straight.  I would like to never have to go through this again."

I'm not saying any of these thoughts were entirely rational.  And they weren't very holy.  But they were very human.

Even after we brought him home, my transition to caring for three kids - as I've mentioned before - was not easy.  It was NOT EASY.  For me to even admit this means it was a significant hardship for me. I am a person who is usually able to deal with stresses and challenges fairly well - I may get frazzled, but I never feel defeated.  But there were days this time around when I was not sure I could handle it.  When I felt like I was drowning.  I felt like I kept putting out feeble "calls for help", yet no one understood or listened.  Everyone expected me to be strong like always, and adjust to the new baby as easily as I had with the first two.  No one realized that I needed to be taken care of.

This expression of despair captures about how I felt
Tom and I have said from the beginning that we wanted a "big family" (whatever that means.  We don't have an ideal number - we're just thankful for what we get).  And we still do.  So it was hard for me for the longest time to understand why people could feel the need to postpone another baby unless there was some major major crisis in their life.  Why waste those fertile years?  Why go through the struggle and the hardship of trying to abstain and figure out God's plan each month, when you could just live out your married life naturally and let the babies come as they would?  Our grandmothers didn't have NFP to fall back on, and they had huge families, and seemed to be happy enough....

But I had begun to notice a trend on comment boards and internet forums.  In many cases, the people who were either the most critical about the use of NFP or the most fanatically impressed with it were rather young - with maybe one or two kids.  The ones who had the more measured and reasoned perspective on it were those who were older and often had many children: People who had endured the exhaustion and wear-and-tear of many pregnancies, but also felt pleasure and relief as their kids grew old enough to help and began to blossom into unique and wonderful people.  People who knew the anxiety and despair of an unintended pregnancy, yet had also found that those unplanned children were one of their life's greatest blessings.

I was talking to Tom only a few weeks before Linus was born about how I wouldn't be surprised if my perspective on welcoming new children continually changed as our family grew.  I realized that we could conceivably hit a point where we just felt too overwhelmed and as if we could use a break between pregnancies.  And now for the first time, I've had a taste of what that emotion is even like.

So I think I've gained some perspective now.  Every family and every person is different, and sometimes people really feel that they could use a "breather" between the babies in order to be a better parent.  (and I'm sure there are any number of other legitimate reasons for postponing a pregnancy, which I'm not mentioning now).  Most people wouldn't go through the struggle of practicing NFP unless they believed they had a legitimate reason.  Perhaps if they're honest with themselves, not all of those people do have legitimate reasons.  But maybe those reasons don't have to be as dire as I once thought.  If things hadn't settled down significantly for me this time around, maybe I'd be considering joining the ranks of those many confused women attempting to make sense of their wacky post-partum fertility signs right now...

But I am dealing better with everything.  Though life is still very busy with all the projects we're doing around the house, I think the toughest portion of the transition to having three kids has passed, and we've found a new rhythm.  (And um, can I just brag right here for a minute about my amazingly easy third baby?  He goes to bed at 9pm, wakes up once at 6 am to nurse, then goes right back to sleep until 10am or so.  It must be God's special gift to me!)  

So here's about how I'm feeling now: At this point, if someone told me "you are going to be handed a new baby in nine months", I'd say, "ok - things might be a little crazy, but I'm game."  But if someone told me, "starting today, you will have to suffer through another nine months of pregnancy, and then endure the travails of childbirth, and then have another child to take care of, making you the mother of four under five", I'd maybe flip out a little.  I really....don't like being pregnant (Tom is encouraging me to remove the word "hate" from my vocabulary).  But I do love new babies :-)

I still don't want to use NFP, and I still think it's important to think of it as something that is definitely less than the ideal.  But it's presumptuous to assume we will never have a reason to consider postponing a pregnancy.  Who knows what the future holds.  Who knows how my perspective will change as I gain experience and insights.  Seriously, I only have three kids now.  In my circles, that's a small family.  What do I really know yet about life and marriage and child-rearing?  Not much!  But I'm continually learning and growing.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Celebrating Pentecost/Our Kitchen Renovation

I am sorry if you clicked here looking for some fun ideas from me about how to observe Pentecost, a.k.a. the day the Holy Spirit came down to the Apostles and Mary, a.k.a. "the birthday of the Church" with your kids.  Because I've got nothing right now!

I have had kind of a crazy week.  Our car has been out of commission for days, forcing me to reschedule most of this week's original plans; we had a family funeral [my uncle passed away over the weekend, prayers for his soul are appreciated] and its various events to find rides to every day; and I've had a guy working on a kitchen renovation for me (yay!!) all week, forcing us to be very "creative" (read: spartan) with our meals as I don't even have access to the kitchen for most of the day.  And we've been out of milk for three days now, which might not seem like a big deal, but to my kids it kind of feels like the end of the world.  

And because I'm a bad Catholic and pretty much haven't attempted daily Mass since I had my second kid, I needed Facebook to remind me that Pentecost is tomorrow*.

So I am looking to you, my kind readers, for any doable last-minute ideas that I could pull off to help the kids - or at least Sly, who is almost four - grasp a bit of what Pentecost is all about.  We can't make it to Mass, since the church-across-the-street that I can actually walk to has it at the same time I need to be home for something tomorrow.  And it can't involve food, unless it's something that needs no cooking.

Maybe some sort of craft involving a "tongue of fire" or a dove?  Actually the dove might be a bad idea, because I think I've finally convinced Sly that the Holy Spirit is not really a dove, but just like a dove, and I don't want to confuse him all over again :-)

Thanks in advance to anyone who shares an idea!

Every now and then, I actually remember to take a few photos of this little cutie.  I feel guilty, but that's just how it goes when you're the third child, and the least demanding one of the bunch.
Kitchen Renovation!

Our compromise when we decided to go ahead and put an offer on our house was that we would make some changes to the kitchen so it would become more useable for me.  I had nixed many a house over the months of torturing our realtor house shopping, due mostly to their tiny and unworkable kitchens.  A kitchen is the most important room in the house for me, since I spend so much of the day there, cooking or cleaning (can.not. wait until the kids are old enough to help more with these things).

To show you what I'm currently working with, this here is the entirety of my counter space.

I can barely even fit a cutting board there.  I constantly have to walk back and forth across the room to the stovetop or the trash can while I'm cooking, because my little food prep area is separated from them.  Also, our kitchen has four doorways entering into it, which makes it really hard to fit much else in the room.

We came up with a few things that will help, though - some new cabinets, an extended countertop, and a nice big single-bowl sink are going in.  Our tiny kitchen is soon going to double in cabinet- and counter-space, yet still be "below average" size for both.  We won't be getting a dishwasher, a pretty modern oven, an island, taller cabinets, or many of those other items I could list for my "dream kitchen."  We will barely even have any wall space left for decorations.  But I'm excited!

And so are the kids!
Oh, also! I recently got to meet Amelia, whose very enjoyable blog I've eagerly followed for a while now, knowing full well that she was the sister of a good friend from college, yet being too awkward to actually tell her that I knew her brother....anyways, I finally got the guts to send her an e-mail informing her that I intended to say "hi" to her at his wedding which we were both attending (thus giving myself no chance to continue being awkward and just dodge her the whole time), and we finally got the meet in real life :-)  She's the second person who I've met after first getting to know through a blog.  It was again an enjoyable yet surreal experience.

*No, Pentecost is on Sunday - I was just being careless before.  See comment below :-) At least it gives me a little more time to prepare!