Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
~ GK Chesterton

Friday, January 31, 2014

7 Quick Takes

~  ONE  ~

Dry winter air is not good for baking bread. Dry, dry bread.  I forgot my old trick of creating a steamy environment in the oven and now I'm stuck with fresh bread that tastes like week-old bread.

~  TWO  ~

I have stumbled upon the concept of unschooling swimming.  Most of my kids have taken swim lessons over the years, but the lessons never created confident swimmers.  I've discovered that letting kids just play in the water has done more to inspire confidence than anything else.  If any of them ever express the desire to be on a swim team, to become a lifeguard, or to become a triathlete, then I shall arrange lessons to help brush up on their strokes.  Until then, all I want is kids who won't drown and can actually have fun in a pool.

~  THREE  ~ 

They've been sending me garden catalogues since just after Thanksgiving.  I refuse to look at any before January.  They are a treat to read when the bitter winter winds are blowing.  In January and February.

~  FOUR  ~

The following petition was in the "prayers and intercessions" part of Morning Prayer the other day:

"Love has no ambition to seek anything for itself: strengthen our will to give up selfishness today."

I took some time with this one.  I was thinking about parental love.  I've seen (and done) where it goes wrong.  By wrong, I mean selfishness masquerading as love.  As in, "I believe in tough love/encouraging independence" that is actually an excuse to be less engaged as a parent.  Or else, there's permissiveness covering the fear of disappointing a child who needs to hear NO.  Where does my selfishness keep me seeking others instead of self? Where do I need to give up self for the good of others? Particularly, husband and children.  I'm still working on those answers.  Alas, it is a lifelong process.

~  FIVE  ~

I've been working on avoiding cabin fever in the midst of the frigid winter cold.  Swimming (see above).  Museums.  My passive nature would bemusedly ask, "Can we not just sit around and read?"  But.  In the spirit of shedding selfishness (see above), we've not been letting the cold keep active children housebound and restless.

~  SIX  ~

I am obliged to run.  Running is the only thing I've found in my adult life that will keep away recurring pains in my lower back.  Most of the time, I do enjoy it.  However, I don't always feel like running, as in super hot summer days or super dark winter morns. I feel so good afterwards, though!  Just like any discipline in life, any of those things that are good for us that require some work, the rewards pay off -- so why do I fight it?

~  SEVEN  ~

My sixth child, my youngest, turned two recently.  She's a joy.  She is smart, she has a sense of humor, she can usually be coaxed out of less-than-desirable behavior with the promise of being read to.  She's energetic in the extreme.  But that's proving hard on me.  I firmly believe that, if we could remove ourselves from the world and all its attending obligations, she would happily live without the standard sleep-wake cycle.  Power naps.  If I could let her power nap throughout the day (and night), I think she'd happily forgo sleeping the way everyone else wants to sleep, longs to sleep, needs to sleep.  So.  Her two years on earth have been a blessing beyond all measure, but they have also marked the two years neither my husband nor I have truly enjoyed good sleep.  I'm struggling with this.  Pray for me.

Thanks, Jennifer, for hosting 7 Quick Takes!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Garden Views: End of January

These photos were taken when the temperature was 10 degrees without a wind chill. Who knew that 10 degrees could feel so good?

Lots of bird prints in the snow.  Not much left for them to eat, in terms of berries on shrubs or trees.  Some of the flowers in the butterfly and bird gardens still have their seeds.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

In Polite Society

This topic is already a number of days old.  I am late to the discussion, but it’s a subject I’ll likely revisit, the next time it comes up in a different form.

The chef at a posh restaurant in Chicago tweeted about clientele with a crying baby that ended up upsetting other diners.  The topic then erupted in social media.  Should one bring a young child to a fancy restaurant/concert/theater/etc.?  I chose to read about it at Design Mom, since I knew there would be other mothers chiming in.  As well, Design Mom has six kids of her own, so she knows.  I figured the discussion would be friendlier than in a non-mother-specific venue.

I do not like to see children banned from establishments solely because of the cost of the ticket/dinner.  In a perfect world, such things ought to be based on parental common sense.  Within my own family, there are certain children who, when they were very young, would have done fine in an atmosphere requiring maturity, and there are others who . . . well, not so much so.  I knew who could be trusted to the treat of live theater; I wouldn’t have considered bringing along someone who couldn’t.  Those with a mature child shouldn’t be driven from polite society by an arbitrary age cut-off.

The fact of the matter is, nowadays, too many adults do not know how to behave in polite society.  Allow me to present the following:

·         You attend an evening performance of musical theater.  The overture begins.  Four adults in front of you continue their conversation, tittering loudly enough for people a number of rows away to notice. Did I mention that the orchestra is already playing?

·         You attend the ballet.  Sitting in front of you is a group of young teenagers.  The adult chaperone spends the entire second act, whispering with the person next to her.

·         You attend a baseball game.  Whilst trying to watch the game, the adults in front of you decide to stand up and chat with others farther down the row from them, thus obscuring the view of the game for anyone in the few rows behind them. 

·         You attend a movie.  It’s a big one, so there aren’t a lot of empty seats and you’re stuck with what you’ve got.  Down the row from you, a woman feels the need to keep a running commentary for her husband on how she thinks the characters are feeling, during the times when there is no dialogue.  Not only is this obnoxious, she gets it wrong most of the time.

·         In any venue in which there is a darkened theater, you are bound to be assaulted by the lit-up phone screens for those who can’t figure out how to power down before the start of the show or the second act.  That ubiquitous Facebook: can’t a person take one evening off?

I’ve dealt with those situations and more.  In re-reading my list of complaints, I sound bitter.  If there’s any bitterness, it’s because of the double standard that rears its ugly head, whenever the report of an unruly child arises.  Without a doubt, there is a problem with parents who lack common sense.  However, my enjoyment of live theater (or Major League Baseball) has been interrupted by adults more than ever it has by children.

Perhaps this is a marketing scheme whose time has come: advertise one performance in a series for adults who cannot keep quiet for the length of the performance, overture included.  Those who cannot power down the phone before the house lights dim shall also be directed to this performance.  Huh . . .

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


“To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.”

~ GK Chesterton

Monday, January 20, 2014

Novelty & Everyday Life

When we moved around every few years, I looked forward to the adventure.  The ordinary things of life were different, and therefore, an adventure: church, library, picnic spots, museums.  Hidden gems were to be discovered off the beaten path: a farmhouse, an old tree, a peaceful park.  I’m not sure why such adventures appeal to an introverted homebody, but they do.

As much as I would enjoy where I was at any moment, I would start to get “itchy feet” and long to move on to the next location, to peer over that next vista.  I felt that “itchy feet” a few years ago, in our current location, even though we were not destined to move from here.

It was a bit of an awakening for me, to discover that the problem was not the location, it was me.  I had stopped trying to discover new things in my surroundings, so I ceased to see the beauty that already existed.  I had fallen into a trap that told me that novelty is what makes a person, place, or thing interesting.  But I was wrong.  Certainly, the people in my life are not any less interesting because they aren’t new to me.  Any lover of books will tell you that they learn something new when re-reading a book.  GK Chesterton has written some brilliant things about the folly of falling for novelty.  Google “The Narrowness of Novelty,” as there’s too much to capture here.  Bottom line: you are a shallow person, if you see a thing’s worth only as it is novel to you.  My children loathe it when I tell them “only the boring are bored,” but it is good advice.  That old adage applied to me! 

That same eagerness to enjoy life that I applied to living in a new place . . . should be my way of life.  Generally speaking, I think that is the kind of person I am, but I can get into a rut of non-action (see that bit about introverted homebody.) 

Not novel, but delightful recent excursions: a surprise visit to the pool (carefully cropped photo, so as to avoid intruding upon the privacy of other pool patrons), a visit to the art museum, an impromptu walk in the park on a warm-ish day.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Winter Scenes

January has been showing the full range of weather that a Midwest Winter can release upon the world.  Cold, freezing, warm-ish.  Snow, rain, fog, ice.  Clouds, sun.

I enjoy being out in the fog, when it looks as if the world ends just up the road.

And just for fun, here's this reminder of the cold snap:

Monday, January 13, 2014

Soy-free Almost-Frango Mints

As a native Chicagoan who has never quite accepted that Marshall Fields no longer exists, I'd take a stand against Macy's by avoiding the iconic Frango Mints.  But, given that they are made with soybean in its numerous forms, I'd do well to avoid them for health reasons.

Soy-sensitive, curmudgeonly native Chicagoans, rejoice!  I accidentally made a recipe that is very close to the original, without even trying.  It's a slight twist on Pioneer Woman's Quick and Easy Peppermint Fudge.

Except that is not fudge.  It is just chocolate candy.  Warning: rant coming.  I'm sorry, proper fudge is not made with sweetened, condensed milk and melted chocolate.  Nor does it qualify as fudge if it's made with marshmallow fluff.  I will only call it fudge if it is done with the whole melting the butter and sugar, boiling it to a certain temperature, cooling it down, beating the heck out of it, then letting it set until hardened just right - method.  Yes, it takes precision.  And practice.  It is chemistry in the kitchen.  It is an art!  The texture is very different from the "quick and easy" fudge recipes.  Any fudge cravings I have cannot be fixed with the quick stuff. This is nothing personal against Pioneer Woman.  I like her!  I like her recipes!  But I must set the record straight.

Now that I have that off my chest, there are times when one really wants chocolate and does not want to go through the labors involved in making fudge.  Such was the goal when I followed PW's recipe and did this:

~ Melted in a saucepan:

3 cups of Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips (free of soy, dairy, gluten)
1 can sweetened, condensed milk

~ While that was melting in the pan (stirring ever so often), I layered an 8x8 pyrex dish with wax paper, then brushed it with melted butter.

~ Once the chocolate mixture was melted and smooth, I stirred in 1.5 teaspoons of mint extract.  I poured it into the dish, spread it smooth, and put it in the cold garage to cool.

When it was ready, I lifted it out of the pan and cut the chocolate into small, Frango-sized squares.  That size wasn't intentional.  But at the first bite, they reminded me of the legendary Frangos, so it was just as well that they resembled the original.

Friday, January 10, 2014

7 Quick Takes: TV Edition

There were no deliberate plans to have a television/film themed list of 7 Quick Takes, it's just how it turned out.

~  ONE  ~

I found a delightful online series of programs, by a family and for families.  Olive Us.  This is their description:

The series is made up of short episodes (typically 2 to 5 minutes) and showcases values we care about like working hard, being kind, helping each other, being creative, problem solving and staying positive even when frustrating things happen.

Our family relationships aren’t perfect, but we hope by modeling positive examples in the videos that it will help us practice better relationships in real life.

~  TWO  ~

My older children and I are big Downton Abbey fans.  However, I believe we are the only ones who did not watch the big premier the other night.  We're holding out for Amazon Prime.  We don't want to watch the edited-for-US-audiences version.  I am ever so grateful to friends for refraining from spoilers: friends in the US, as well as friends in the UK who do not post spoilers on blogs/Facebook/etc.

~  THREE  ~

I recently watched Disney's "Beauty and the Beast."  It's been a while.  I was disappointed to realize that Belle is a bit of a snob!  "There goes that baker, with his tray like always, the same old bread and rolls to sell."  "Little town full of little people."  "This poor provincial town."  You know, people who truly enjoy books because they enjoy losing themselves in a story don't get uppity because not everyone shares their joy; if they get uppity, then they are just reading because they think it makes them seem intellectual.  And I, for one, would love to spend some time in a small rural French village, with daily access to freshly baked bread and rolls.  No way would I look down on the people who provide it. She thinks the townspeople are "little," but anyone who walks around in a daze about anything is asking for people to talk about her.  In fact, almost like "Pride and Prejudice," it seems that Belle is guilty of misjudging people as much as the Beast did. Perhaps that is the point of the movie and I've missed it. But if I've missed it, it's because there's never any resolution at the end of the movie in which Belle makes friends with the townspeople and learns that the baker is a poet in his down time, there's a local priest with whom she can discuss Aquinas, and there's a mother of eight who will teach Belle to crochet because it's a handy skill and can be meditative work.

~  FOUR  ~

Speaking of "Pride and Prejudice," I watched "Bride and Prejudice" with my Austen-fan children.  It was my second time seeing it.  If someone were to take "Pride and Prejudice" and turn it into a musical, I'd probably refuse to see it.  (And I do like musical theater!)  Interestingly, breaking into song and dance does not seem unnatural during a Bollywood production.  It works.

~  FIVE  ~

Just over a month until pitchers and catchers report!  Yes, that is related to today's TV theme.  MLB Network.

~  SIX  ~

Classic movie fans?  I hear that TV Guide has a special edition out now, commemorating the 75th anniversary of "Gone with the Wind."  A handful of classic movie fans in this house; one who is into GWTW big time.

~  SEVEN, Part One  ~

I finally got around to seeing "Monsters University."  I love how culturally subversive Pixar is.  At the end of this post, after the "7 Quick Takes" link back to Jennifer, I will write some spoilers.  Don't read beyond the 7QT logo, if you haven't seen the movie. **

Thanks to Jen for hosting 7 Quick Takes!

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes about galleys, daily logs, resolutions, and words for *last* year

~  SEVEN, Part Two  ~

** Pixar is delightfully subversive.  Mike learned a lesson that wanting something badly enough doesn't mean you are going to get it.  That's a change from the touchy-feely, feelings-trump-reality society in which we live.  Also enjoyable: Mike and Sully were expelled from university, but they still worked their way up through Monsters, Inc., to do, eventually, the jobs they'd long dreamed of doing.  In this day of five- or six-figure student debt (depending upon your field of study), I wish more companies were willing to let employees work their way up through the ranks in lieu of expensive degrees that may have had nothing to do with one's eventual employment.  In a mix of movies, I guess Belle would have found the uni drop-outs beneath her, but that just shows how wrong she would have been to hitch her star to Randall, who didn't get expelled but ended up making some poor choices during his career at Monsters, Inc.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Old Things New Again

Quick.  Read the sub-heading on this blog.  Eclectic.

I break the blogging "rules" by my lack of focus on a few, related subjects.  Honestly, though, I am not writing a blog in order to become a super-blogger who dazzles the world with her rapier wit and stunning photography.  This blog is the cyber extension of me, discussing the things I discuss with family and friends.

Now that the apology is over, I branch out into a new territory.  Home decor.  I will be the first to admit that I am not an artist, but I appreciate artistry and beauty.  I don't create art, but I do admire it.

In the home, I am drawn to real materials: wood, not plastic; cottons, linens, and wools, not synthetic fibers; houseplants, vases with flowers, and even produce set out on a lovely plate.

I am drawn, as well, to household items with a story. Even for items that are not museum-quality, it is a delight to learn that a friend's bookcase belonged to her grandmother, or that someone's child is sleeping in her father's boyhood bed.

I dislike snobbery in home decor.  I don't like designers who are anti-child in their approach to decorating.  Much more preferable are homes designed to be lived in, whether than means antiques that are actually used by the family, or child-proofed homes that are still pretty. 

And snobbery goes both ways.  I know that some people get defensive about the topic, if they imagine an insult because their homes are not magazine-ready.  "Oh, how Martha Stewart," I've heard expressed in sarcastic tones, if someone else should go to the effort to make something pretty.  However, there is more to beauty than money splashed out on a material goods.  I've felt uncomfortable in homes where there was money spent on fussy items; I've felt at home in welcoming places where the well-used sofa might have been older than I was.  I know an artist could put into words what I am trying to describe.  See above: I am not an artist, so I cannot put my finger on the difference.  It's instinctive, more than anything else.

There are a handful of blogs that I visit on a regular basis.  Design Mom is beautiful and even the high-end homes she shares are meant to be for families.  Small Things, In the Heart of My Home, and House Art Journal give photographic glimpses into beautiful surroundings, with children.  An inspiring blog, but an idea I don't think I could sell my family on, is Assortment Blog, the journal of a wife and mother with three children who live in under 700 square feet.

Very recently, I discovered Moore for Less, a blog that shares thrifty ways to create a beautiful home.  The discovery of this blog is what inspired this post. It's my cousin's blog!  I live too far from Laura to see her lovely house, but I am thrilled to be able to get a glimpse of it online.

In this post, Laura shares how her children are using desks that hold sentimental value for her.  I've got one of those same desks!  The desks came from an aunt of ours, a teacher whose school was getting new desks, and we inherited the old ones.  Knowing how much better things were made once upon a time, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that these older desks are holding up better than whatever replaced them.  My sisters and I used this desk when we were kids; my older children used them, as well.  When the younger kids started using tables for writing and art, instead of the desks, I re-purposed this desk as a nightstand for my son.  This is how Laura is using her desk.  This is how I am using mine:

Pardon the clutter of an almost-teenaged boy.

Old things new again. 

It's likely that the only value the desk holds is sentimental.  Now, I feel an added dimension of sentimentality, knowing that my cousin is incorporating her desks into her own home, too.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Polar Vortex

What does this look like to you?

To me (since it is from my camera, after all), it looks like a snow-covered garden.  With a pergola post in the center of the photo.

To the birds, it looks like a smorgasbord.  Robins, thrush, and starlings are today's visitors. They are eating the berries off the ivy on the pergola posts and the privet hedge berries (barely noticeable, in the background).  Their feathers all puffed up in defense against the cold, they snag a berry and then find a place to perch whilst they eat it.  They haven't been eager to pose for me, so I don't have any photographic evidence of that.

As soon as the promised warmth returns, I am interested in finding out if they have been snacking off the holly I planted especially for the birds who stay here for the winter.  That bush cannot be seen without venturing into the snow and cold, so I will wait.  The dogwood tree has been stripped of its berries already, thanks to the hungry cowbirds.  Even in the winter, the garden fulfills its "beautiful and useful" duties.

We've been keeping warm during Polar Vortex 2014. I'm grateful for that.  The only driving I've had to do on the icy roads was not bad, as fellow drivers were taking care to travel at decent speeds.  It is hard to believe that they are predicting rain and 46 degrees by Saturday!  Gotta love this Midwest living!  (Unless you don't like weather extremes.  Which I didn't used to do.  But I've learned to embrace it as a metaphor for life.)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

It is still Christmas!

Another Christmas poem.  Another Chesterton.

A Christmas Carol
by GK 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.

This can be found online in many places.  Mine is from "The Harp and Laurel Wreath" by Laura Berquist. Not an affiliate link; for informational purposes only.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Musings on Resolutions

Resolutions for the New Year.  Do you make them?

There are articles and books aplenty, extolling the virtues of turning over a new leaf at a certain date and time, such as January 1st.  On the other hand, there is also much written about the dismal success rate of New Year’s resolutions.

Personally, I do not find one particular time that inspires me to make resolutions more than any other.  Perhaps it is a consequence of recognizing that I am such a work in progress, I shouldn’t wait around for the New Year to amend my life!  There’s the first of a new year, there’s Lent, there’s Easter, there’s summer, there’s the start of the academic year . . . opportunities abound!

A new(er) book out has helped me focus on one particular theme for 2014.  “Geek Priest,” by Father Roderick Vonhogen. Fr. Roderick gives a brief description of the book, as well as ordering information, at his website. 

No, New Year’s is not the focus of this book, but here is one of my takeaways:

“I learned to protect my boundaries and say no to what might be good in itself but not part of what I was called to do.  I learned that doing my duty was good enough and I could trust God to take care of the rest.”


“This was one of the most important lessons I’ve had to learn over the years: to listen better to my conscience.  In my early years as a priest, I often acted out of concern for what people expected of me.  I said yes to anything they asked because I was afraid of the consequences of saying no.  I forgot to listen to my inner voice that often told me to slow down, protect my boundaries, and not worry about people’s perceptions or expectations.”

Obviously, this is not something unique to the vocation of the priesthood.  I’m guilty of not protecting my boundaries.  I’ve made mistakes in taking on too much.  It was an eye-opener, a humbling one, to learn some truths about my abilities.  I learned that it’s not that I was any busier than anyone else, it’s that I couldn’t juggle as many balls as others are able to keep up in the air.  So, I slowly made some changes to the way I take on responsibilities, outside of the normal ones of a stay-at-home, homeschooling mother.

That is what I plan to continue in a more purposeful way for 2014, the theme of “protect my boundaries.”  Prayer is a good preventative tool. I also need to have faith that “doing my duty is good enough; I can trust God to take care of the rest.”

Again, Happy New Year!

PS: I recommend Father Roderick's book. He calls himself a "new media missionary."  His is a good witness about Christians engaging in the secular world around us.  Very "in the world, not of it," and in the world because the world is a good place and we need to be a Christian presence in it!