Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Towards a Better Resolution

I have been making birthday and New Years’ Resolutions ever since I started keeping journals, at the age of eight. Although I have been refining the process through my lifetime, they tend to always be formed along the same theme. Since I keep doing it, and enjoying it, I think I have a pretty good system in place. Here are the parameters for my resolution-making formula.

I make 10 general resolutions. These address all areas of life: spiritual, physical, psychological, and social. They also cover the JOY spectrum I learned in Sunday School: my relationships with Jesus first, then Others, then Self. They tend to cover the same areas of priorities and personal development that have been important throughout my life: family, prayer life, personal fitness, housekeeping projects (gardening, building, decluttering), skills development (piano, art, writing), and career advancement (publishing).

Making general resolutions is important in defining what is most important to me at this moment in my life, before making more specific ones. The more specific goals are those that outline exactly how I am going to meet each resolution. For example, here is one item that appears on most adults’ list: personal fitness. How many minutes per day will I exercise? What forms of exercise will I use? In looking back on the year, one might say, “Okay, I can still stand to lose 5 pounds, but I did manage to weight train twice a week and increase my muscle to fat ratio.” So even if you have to work more on the same resolution next year, you can say you did not fail. You were successful in part of the goals.

Always on my list is Writing More and Getting Published. Under that goal, I can say: write x minutes per day, submit one proposal per month, submit to y publisher of z magazine, etc. If I fail at publishing in print, at least I can say I wrote everyday and self-published on my blog.

Sometimes I can kill two birds with one stone. The specifics of two different general goals can work toward both ends. Decluttering has been quite popularized of late. Last year, under the general resolution of “organize house”, I made it a sub-goal to donate one-third of my books to my public library. I did it, and was able to use my new-found shelf space to organize our home office, which was another of my sub-goals. (In all fairness, I must admit that my garage is still a mess; however, I did take 5 minutes per day throughout the fall to organize small sections of it.)

On my birthday, Aug. 30, I revisit my goals. I put a check mark under the ones that I have made progress on, making notes on what I have done and what could be done better, and refine. Then I make a new list of goals, building on the ones I had made earlier in the year. I keep my resolutions in my journal. Others might find it easier to keep a notebook just for this purpose. A mini-notebook can be used for a daily log of exercise to keep you on track.

Do you keep your resolutions private, or make them public? This depends on you. Some people find that confiding their goals in someone help them to keep them better. Others find this a hindrance. I have a few writing friends that I have confided my publishing goals in, but in general keep those private. My spiritual and personal fitness goals are completely private. My organizational goals are public; they make for good conversation.

Obviously, resolutions must be reasonable, or they will be given up within a week. Only you know what is possible for you.

Happy New Year to you and yours, and if you make resolutions, resolve to keep them!

Where Have I Been?

All six members of my family, in addition to my houseguests, succumbed to a stomach virus, in various forms, over the weekend. ‘Nuff said. (Although our dog was not sick, we all felt the way Bear looks in the picture above.) Everyone is on the mend now, in time to go out and enjoy a beautiful snow that is presenting falling in my yard. Once I get all the kids out and the baby napping, I will be able to clear out my inbox and take out my journal to work on my New Years’ Resolutions. Do you have trouble making, or keeping, your resolutions? If you have time, please come back for my next post, “Towards a Better Resolution”, which I expect to publish over the next few hours. (I will also be consulting a grammar book to see if I should be using “toward” or “towards”.)


According to Dr. Grammar,
Toward(s), Forward(s), Backward(s)?
"No final s ('towards'), although that's how they say it in Britain. Similarly, in American English, standard practice is not to add a final s to forward, backward, upward, onward, downward, and so on.
[Example:] George and Karmer were last seen heading toward the buffet." (O'Conner, Who Is I 117-118).

But according to English Chick,
These two words are usually considered to be alternate spellings of each other. Mostly, it's a matter of personal preference. In case you care, my own personal preference is to leave the "s" off, just because it can be confusing, seeming to imply plurality where there is none. (Incidentally, the same applies to "anyway/anyways.")

Since I grew up reading classic English literature, I lean towards keeping the s as my personal preference.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Company, and a Birthday Party

Things are usually pretty quiet in my house, taking into consideration the four kids who live here. This week I hosted Christmas as well as a birthday party for my daughter. I have had company every day, with more expected through the New Year! It has been very exciting, albeit quite the whirlwind.

My daughter’s ten-year-old “Design-your-own” celebration with her friends was a success. We designed our own pizzas, designed our own cupcakes, and designed our own gingerbread houses. The pizzas were made of Boboli crusts with pizza sauce, cheese, and various toppings of their choosing. The cupcakes were plain vanilla with vanilla icing and lots of fun toppings. The “gingerbread houses” were composed of graham crackers, royal icing, and a variety of candies.

The kids had just arrived when I heard a cell phone blip. We don’t use cell phones in our house, so I knew it was one of the children receiving a text message. The texting continued halfway through the party. I wondered if we’d ever be able to fully engage Phone Girl in the present.

When the makings of a house all came out, suddenly the texting stopped. These maturing girls were not too old for gummy bears and gumdrops. When the first girl finished hers, she announced proudly, “Momma, Poppa, and Baby Bear have moved in!”

When there was a pause needed so I could clear and reset the table, they decided on their own that they wanted to play musical chairs. They took them from the kitchen into the living room, and my daughter played Christmas Carols while they tripped around the chairs.

Today there was a breather, and I decided to take the three older ones to the movies, leaving the toddler with my husband. We waited on line for The Tale of Despereaux, only to find it was sold out. I decided at the last moment to buy tickets for Bedtime Stories. To my surprise, I was given four free First Priority tickets for next time we come in! And we really enjoyed the movie- some tiny little improprieties that probably went over my kids’ heads, but altogether a good time, with the nice guy having his dreams come true in the end.

I skipped over the date my husband and I got to have last night, the first in quite a long time! We had a beautiful dinner, followed by a movie. We saw The Day the Earth Stood Still. My husband is not one for save-the-earth moralizing, so he did not like it, but I found it to be entertaining. We actually came home in between the dinner and the movie because there was too much of a gap before the next showing. I told the kids to go to bed and realized the next day that I had inadvertently sent them to bed without a dessert – the highest form of punishment in my house! I hope I made up for it today.

Painting: Nativity. Master of Hohenfurth, c. 1350, Web Gallery of Art

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve at the Miller Home

Although a light rain is falling, there is enough snow left on the ground from the weekend that it will still qualify as a White Christmas. I am thankful to have some time to write as the kids watch a movie in the living room.

Since my daughter’s birthday is so close to Christmas, we traditionally allow the children to open one gift early after the opening of birthday gifts. I gave them their movies, to keep them busy as I prepare for company: Prince Caspian (for my 11-year-old), Kit Kittredge (for my 10-year-old), Wall-E (for my 7-year-old), and Tinkerbell (for my 2-year-old).

Today is a relaxed day. The ham for tomorrow is out of the freezer and all I have left to do is supervise the children’s cleaning of their rooms before company comes. My bedroom looks like a storage room at the North Pole; I look forward to having it back!

Tonight we will have an early dinner at around 4:00, before we go to the Family Mass at 5:00. When we come home, we will have Christmas cookies and leftover birthday cake for dessert. The children will get on their Christmas pajamas. My husband and I will exchange gifts. (I am still “hinting” at what I want; he always goes out on Christmas Eve to get the one gift that is his responsibility.) We will finish up our Jesse Tree. They will go to bed.

Then all the presents come down and get placed under the tree. There will be one pile for each child. Using a spreadsheet program, I have kept track of all my purchases so that each child gets the same number of presents, valued at approximately the same total. For the little one, I have removed tags and packaging as much as possible, to make unwrapping easier for her.

In the morning, my oldest will come to me to let me know they are ready to go down. I’ll get my camcorder, run down to turn on the lights, and call them down. They will take turns opening, helping each other as needed. After breakfast, we will clean everything up and then get ready for company.

My in-laws will be coming for dinner at 2:00. On the menu are ham, potatoes, and lots of vegetables. I have a chocolate house and chocolate mousse pie for dessert, with a pumpkin pie that will be brought.

It sounds so nice now that I have it all written down. I will be sure to treasure every moment and be thankful for all we have.

Merry Christmas to you and your family!

Nativity, Giotto di Bondone, 1304-06. Scenes from the Life of Christ. CGFA.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Duggars Welcome Child #18

"In this Aug. 2, 2007 file photo, Michelle Duggar, left, is surrounded by her children and husband Jim Bob, second from left, after the birth of her 17th child in Rogers, Ark. Michelle Duggar gave birth to her 18th child, a girl named Jordyn-Grace Makiya Duggar, Thursday, Dec. 18, 2008." (AP Photo/ Beth Hall, File)

Congratulations to the Duggars on their newest edition! Thank you for being a shining light for a Culture of Life. Thank you also to the Learning Channel and Discovery Channel for bringing us the beautiful stories of the Duggars and other large families.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Urgent Action Needed!

President Elect Barack Obama has a new website in which you can post your comments on his proposed policies. Please go here to voice your opposition to the Freedom of Choice Act.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tips for Staying Sane This Week

I am not sure how much writing I will be able to do this week. On the flip side, my readers may be too busy to read my blog this week! So I will keep my posts short and sweet.

Today I had to go food shopping with several major events in mind, other than our normal meals. My daughter’s tenth birthday, Christmas, class parties, and guests expected to drop in. Today I had to bake cupcakes for two of my children’s classes. (I hear public schools no longer allow sweets of any kind, so I am thankful that I am allowed to send them in!) I still have to go downstairs and ice them and figure out how best to pack them.

We had to get ready all the little cards and (handmade) gifts for all the teachers. Tomorrow I will make my famous Hershey's chocolate cake for our own family to eat on my daughter’s birthday. It takes a bit of time but is outrageous. Then I will do a really good cleaning and waxing of my kitchen floor. That will do it for the week, other than the sweeping that is necessary twice a day.

Tips for Staying Sane Include:

1. Posting detailed lists on the fridge and checking off items when they are done. This gives me a great sense of satisfaction.

2. Lighting my Advent Candles every night at dinner. It makes the mood festive and peaceful.

3. Keeping reasonable expectations of myself and my children.

4. Getting enough sleep.

5. Eating enough fruits and veggies.

6. Taking a B-complex vitamin for energy.

7. Having stuff done ahead of time, as much as possible. If you didn’t do that this year, vow to do it next year.

8. Saying no to unreasonable requests.

9. Rewarding the kids for being good. If they have been good and have cleaned their rooms, St. Nick leaves candy canes or chocolates in their stockings that night.

10. Taking time for yourself at the end of the day. Do whatever makes you feel relaxed.

God bless you as you enter the final days of preparation!

Christmas Scene, 1820, Franz Xaver Frh vom Paumgartten

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Last night we were up to the Cross and Snake symbol on our Jesse Tree. That was to represent the story about God’s sending vipers to punish His people for complaining. I remembered writing about that same story last December.

Complaining is one of my biggest vices. Today I continually saw that Cross and Snake symbol in my mind as I griped. The kids were outside having a splendid time and I was moaning and groaning about having to mop the floor every time they came inside, dropping gobs of snow through the kitchen, to get new gloves. I was running to the dryer with armfuls of wet hats and gloves every fifteen minutes.

Meanwhile, I was missing out on enjoying the beauty of the ever-falling snow. The sweetness of my two-year-old getting rides on a sled from her older siblings. The cute little voice that came into the backdoor every five minutes holding out wet gloves, her pink little face saying, “It’s too wet.”

Okay, so I didn’t totally miss these things, but I could have gotten more out of it without my dissatisfaction.

I think they included that story in the Jesse Tree because it is part of the human condition to complain, to never be satisfied, to yearn for something better. And it is exactly at this time of year that we mothers are pulled by all the demands of preparing for Christmas, while the Christmas songs tell us to be “jolly”. It is God who tells us 800 times in the Bible to “be glad”. To be thankful is to be happy.

This is my sister’s favorite scripture:

"Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens.
This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live." -1 Thes. 5:16-18

The picture above is of the trees in my backyard Saturday at 1:00; compare to Friday's at 1:00 (yesterday's post).

Will there be a Bailout for the Abortion Industry?

Read the article here from World Net Daily.
Click here for an easy-to-fill-out form petitioning against such a bailout.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Half Snow Day

“It’s gonna snow tomorrow!”

“School’s gonna be canceled!”

The kids all came home yesterday carrying notes to the effect that a school closing was highly probably today.

“Should we bother making lunches?”

My eleven–year-old applied Murphy’s Law. “If we make lunches, it will snow and school will be canceled. If we don’t make lunches, it won’t snow and we’ll need them.”

“Hmm,” I responded, “You’d better make the lunches then.”

So they made the lunches. I promised to wake up at 5:00 to check the news for school closings. I did, flipping from channel to channel as our county was continually left out. The forecast now called for snow to start mid-morning. From the weather maps, it looked like Long Island was going to be spared much snowfall. I told the kids to pack their snow boots.

“What for?” they wanted to know.

“You’re probably going to have early dismissal because the snow is going to start after you get to school. Buckle up on the school bus and be careful!”

I warned my husband to try to get out early to get some work done. He is self-employed and works on the road. I also tried to get him to take a hat and gloves, but he did not believe that they would be needed. I’ll be kind and not say “I told you so” when he gets home. I am sure he can hear me saying it in his head right now.

By mid-morning, my toddler was excited to see a nice fluffy snow falling. She can now pronounce all of her syllables. “Snow,” she can say, replacing her former “No”. (No also used to mean “nose”, as well as No, which demonstrates the importance of context in listening to a toddler.)

She lifted up her Minnie Mouse to see out the window. “Snow car,” she says, meaning that the snow was starting to cover the car.

Having faith in more to come, I took out some butter and eggs to soften. We will make some chocolate chip cookies together.

I got a telephone call from the school nurse, letting me know that early dismissal was underway. She wasn’t exactly sure of the time, but she wanted to make sure we knew.

I can just see all the kids in their classes now, looking out the windows, letting words bounce off their ears. I hope the teachers are nice enough to keep the blinds open. When I was teaching, the principal said to close the blinds so the kids would not be distracted by the snow. How mean!

I’m excused from cleaning the floor today. Soon the kids will be tracking snow in and out of the house. Coats, scarves, wet mittens, and boots will be strewn all over the kitchen and laundry room.

The high school kids are home already. I see one on a skateboard, hitching a ride in the back of a car. Those fool kids!

It looks like it’s going to be a white Christmas for most folks this year. Especially in tough times, what a welcome treat that will be for all.

Above is a picture of the snow falling on the trees in my backyard at 1:00 this afternoon.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

I'm Giving My Bathrooms a White Christmas

One week before Christmas. It is too early to do the regular cleaning for Christmas, but there are some deep cleaning chores that can be done to spruce up the house. When houseguests are expected, I make a conscious effort to organize my linen closet and bathroom cabinets. I also see the bathroom through a guest’s eyes and think, “Hmm, if I was a guest here, would I want to take a shower in there?” I keep a clean bathroom, but old tile and grout will never give you that satisfying bright “clean” look.

Every five years I use grout whitener to brighten up the look of the bathroom. You apply the whitener to the grout, let it sit for four hours, polish it, then apply the sealer. These results could not be gotten through scrubbing.

About once a month I throw the shower curtain in the bleach wash. The liner can go in there as well. After the washer is done, simply hang it back up on the hooks to dry.

If you have those crystal-looking sink handles, you can remove them and let them soak in an ammonia and water solution for about an hour, scrub with a toothbrush, and replace. You won’t believe how shiny and new they look! This I do about once a year.

This is how the tile and grout in my shower looked before.

This is the product I used to whiten the grout. It is available in Walmart and Home Depot, and comes with a sealer in a similar bottle.

This is how the tile and grout look after. All the kids noticed immediately.

This is how the faucet looked before.

First, use a flathead screwdriver to take off the little pieces that say H and C. Holding the knob to the right to keep the faucets from turning on, use a Phillips head screwdriver to remove the screws that hold on the handles.

This is how the faucet looks without all the handles, after I have cleaned the gunk off with some CLR and a toothbrush.

This is the faucet after all parts have been cleaned and shined.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Elizabeth’s Thrifty Quick-Wrapping Tips

I have no empty closets in which to hide Christmas gifts. Therefore, I am forced to wrap my gifts as soon as I get home from a shopping trip. I keep a store of wrapping supplies handy in my bedroom for this purpose. I turn over the top gift in each pile so the kids don’t see their names on anything.

Clear tape: Walmart brand is about one-third the price of name-brand and works just as well.

Christmas wrap: One huge roll, purchased last January at one-tenth the seasonal price

Black permanent ink calligraphy pen with two ends: One thick nub for labeling gifts and cards and one thin nub for inscribing books – available at Michael’s or Walmart. This eliminates the need for annoying, time-consuming tags.

Book of Quotations: For inscribing books.

Bows: One bag of about 25, purchased at the end of the season. I do not put bows on during the initial wrapping. This enables me to lay all the gifts flat for more efficient storage, and carry them in the car if necessary. On Christmas Eve I first lay out all the gifts, then strategically place the bows. For gifts that will be transported, I use ribbon if anything.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Carol Meme

I got this from MacBeth’s Opinion.

1. Love 'em, hate 'em, tolerate 'em, or...?
Love them! All of them!

2. Policy: none before Christmas, none before Thanksgiving, or...?
None before Thanksgiving. I take out my "Book of Golden Christmas" to start practicing the day after Thanksgiving.

3. Favorite? Favorites, if you've got more than one?
Any of the ones I can play on the piano. I like all the classics. O Holy Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Joy to the World, Silent Night, etc.

4. Least favorite? Drives you batty/hate it/turn it off if it comes on the radio?
Santa Got Run Over by a Reindeer (Of course, this does not constitute a Christmas Carol – songs that are not hymns are referred to as Christmas Songs. I like many Christmas Songs from the kids’ Christmas specials.)

5. Caroling door to door in neighborhood? Ever done it/would do it? Wouldn't even consider it?
Have done it and would do it again. I keep cookies on hand in case they come by, which is seldom.

6. Funniest kids' rendition, if any?
Kids used to add “like a lightbulb” at the end of every phrase in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. I never really understood why this was funny. I don’t like the “Batman Smells” version of “Jingle Bells” because I think it’s disrespectful.

7. Most inappropriate carol ever heard in a church setting (Catholic or otherwise)?
I can’t think of any.

8. The one foreign language carol I know (or know best) is...?
Does “JOY / Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” by J.S. Bach count? (There are no words but the title was originally foreign.)

9. Carol that perplexes you the most?
The Twelve Days of Christmas. I know they were supposedly code for the catechism at a time when Christians were being persecuted. I need to educate myself on the meanings of these verses. There is a thorough explanation here.

10. Carol your whole family will sing?
Any and all.

Consider yourself tagged if you’d like to copy this and post your own answers to your blog.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What is Your Brain's Pattern?

Your Brain's Pattern

Structured and organized, you have a knack for thinking clearly.

You are very logical - and you don't let your thoughts get polluted with emotions.

And while your thoughts are pretty serious, they're anything from boring.

It's minds like yours that have built the great cities of the world!

For Goodness Sake, Enjoy Those Christmas Cookies!

One of our favorite pastimes in December is the making and eating of cookies. We have been making batches of cookies daily this week, a different type each day; and I keep meaning to make some dishes for the neighbors. After dinner the entire plate disappears like magic. “Oh well,” I say, “I guess we’ll have to make more tomorrow!”

I went food shopping this afternoon and became very angry when I saw the headlines on almost every one of the women’s magazines featured at the checkout line. “Lose 10 pounds by Christmas, Is Stress Making You Fat?, New Miracle Fat-Burning Food, Eat More and Lose Weight, What Happened to Oprah?”

It seems very strange that these titles would be so heavily featured between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the time that most adults tend to gain a few pounds. Women are stressed out, trying to prepare a nice Christmas for their families. This stress is increasing their cortisol levels, which causes them to gain weight. It is making them tired, which causes them to gain weight. Then they see these titles, which increases their guilt at eating delicious food, which increases their stress while eating, which causes them to gain weight.

Dieting right now can actually be dangerous. Cut out the carbohydrates that your brain needs and you will suffer headaches; the hormones needed to keep your mood stabilized will be short-changed, making you irritable or depressed. Resetting your metabolism to using less calories now will cause you to retain the calories when you do let yourself eat at a party.

Most of the editors of these magazines are women, and I am quite surprised that they can purposely do this to other women. I don’t know how they can sleep at night.

Advent is supposed to be a time of feasting and joy. We are supposed to sit by a fire, or on the couch under blankets, enjoying the warmth and the plenty of our tables. Our bodies are made to naturally conserve a little fat over the winter, to keep us warm. I say, enjoy those Christmas cookies, and forget about your weight until New Year’s.

“Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
Psalms 103:5

Today we light the pink candle for the third week of Advent.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What Movie is Your Christmas Most Like?

Your Christmas is Most Like: A Charlie Brown Christmas

Each year, you really get into the spirit of Christmas.

Which is much more important to you than nifty presents.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Did Adam and Eve Exist?

We are a little behind with our Jesse Tree this year. Normally when we trim the tree we would have a large fir branch we could use for this purpose. This time, the branches were cut at the nursery and my husband had not thought of bringing one home. I brought out our box of Jesse Tree ornaments and started today, with one scripture story per child, until we catch up.

During our reading of the story of Adam and Eve, my 11-year old daughter told me that everyone in her religion class, including her teacher, says the story is not true! It is just a story to teach a lesson, not to be taken literally, they say.

I informed my children that of course the story is true, the all of God’s Word is true, and that people have been trying to say otherwise since the dawn of time.

I teach my children not to believe everything they hear, whether it be in a textbook, in the newspaper, on television, or from their teacher.

But the Word of God is one thing they can always put their faith in.

Adam and Eve. Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1526. Courtauld Gallery, London

A Volcano Erupts in my Sink

“And now, for something completely different.”

If you’re easily grossed out, don’t read this post.

I’m working at my computer this afternoon when the front door bursts open. My son pounds up the steps. “I feel like I’m gonna throw up,” he exclaims.

“Try to make it to the sink,” I say.

Two steps more and he is in the bathroom, throwing up.

Within an hour, he is feeling much better, but the question still remains: how do I get this stuff to go down the drain? So I bring up a gallon of vinegar, pour it on, and let it sit for a while. It does some magic, but it needs more help. Four hours later, I have poured the entire gallon into the sink.

“Hmmm, how about baking soda?” I think to myself. This is normally what I use to clean out drains. I get the baking soda out of the fridge and sprinkle a little in. There is a satisfying fizz. What the heck, I think, and pour the rest of it in. Suddenly I remember that this is the way we make mud volcanoes in the backyard.

“Oh no!” I yell. The fizz is coming up and is halfway up the sink. My daughters come to see what is going on. It is grosser than gross, and I’m laughing hysterically. It comes right up to the rim of the sink and stops.

Five minutes later, the liquid settles, leaving only the molted lava at the base of the sink. Phew, that was a close one.

“The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth.”
Psalms 97:5

Photograph by Carsten Peter.
“Perched above the lighted city of Catania, Italy, Mount Etna hurls a fountain of fire skyward as rivers of lava spill down its flanks. In spite of its dazzling displays, Mount Etna is a relatively safe volcano with rare, compact eruptions and slow-flowing lava that gives people a chance to escape.” – National Geographic

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Ruth’s Legacy: The Calling of a Wife and Mother

I started my notes on this post on Nov. 5, while at my daughters’ cross-country meet. I had actually felt called upon to writing about Ruth while doing a mini-series on Callings back in September. I have to admit I was not very excited about the prospect. Ruth was a good girl and nothing very exciting happened to her. Unlike Esther, whose tale is highly dramatic. (She has always been my favorite – but I’ll have to save her for another post. See how I really don’t want to write about Ruth? And yet I feel compelled to.)

Wait just a minute here. Did I say nothing exciting ever happened to Ruth? How about becoming a widow, leaving your country with your mother-in-law, changing your religion, being thrust into a totally new culture, and then having to find a husband to take care of you and your mother-in-law? All this is told so succinctly, in such a matter-of-fact fashion, that you have to stop and re-read to let it all sink in.

After re-reading Ruth’s brief biography – which is only four chapters long – I knew I was going to need some time to thoroughly dissect it. For she was simple and good, and yet so much complexity lay underneath her actions, which were further complicated by distinct cultural morays. And her life account ends immediately after she gives birth to Obed, as if that was the sum total of her existence. Not exactly what we modern mothers want to hear, is it?

Then I thought of my own family tree. I have the advantage of having had young parents and grandparents, who could remember several generations back. I have recorded their names, countries, and careers, if any. What stories have I heard about them? Most of them relate to the romance that led to the marriages, and the subsequent children they had. After all, that is what a family tree is.

I believe Ruth’s place in the Jesse Tree is the primary reason for her inclusion in the Old Testament. She most likely had a wonderful life, having a loving husband who held a good position in the community. She may have gone on to do many fulfilling things. We don’t hear about that because it is not pertinent to her role in the ancestry of Jesus.

There are many days when we mothers may feel as if we were cut out for much more than picking up after the house, breaking up fights between siblings, and making dinner. It is then that we must freeze that moment in time and fit it into a larger timeline. Imagine that one day on the timeline of your whole life, from birth to (hopefully) old age. How many years out of your life will you actually spend caring for children? Perhaps 20 – a quarter of your life. Now imagine that upon this quarter of your life rests your legacy – what your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will be told about you. The other three-quarters can be used as you wish. That sounds like a real bargain.

Suddenly, I no longer feel the need to dissect the story of Ruth any further. I have gleaned from her story all I need to at this point in my life. Perhaps when I am older I will read it again and find something else.

Ruth and Boaz are symbolized on the Jesse Tree as a symbol of wheat. The suggested readings are Ruth 1:16; 2:2, 8, 10-12; 4:13-14

Painting: “Ruth Gleaning.” James Tissot, 1896-1900. Christian Theological Seminary

Monday, December 8, 2008

What Kind of Intelligence Do You Have?

I got this off my friend Loren Christie's blog. These are my results. Click on the picture to take the test.

Your Dominant Intelligence is Linguistic Intelligence

You are excellent with words and language. You explain yourself well.

An elegant speaker, you can converse well with anyone on the fly.

You are also good at remembering information and convincing someone of your point of view.

A master of creative phrasing and unique words, you enjoy expanding your vocabulary.

You would make a fantastic poet, journalist, writer, teacher, lawyer, politician, or translator.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Elizabeth’s Baked Chicken with Paprika

This comes from my Hungarian background. Basically you take any kind of meat, sprinkle it with salt and paprika, and you have a Hungarian dish! Paprika comes in sweet and hot varieties. (Sometimes I use the hot variety instead of pepper in dishes such as meatloaf.)

The Hungarians, being landlocked, had to use many foods that were preserved. But most of their livestock was grown fresh by the housewives. They grew their own chickens and other fowl, killed them, and prepared them. Fortunately I am spared the trouble. But did you hear that chicken producers clean the chicken pieces with bleach after chopping them up? Make sure you clean your chicken thoroughly and cook it until it is really done.

Lay chicken pieces out in your pot. Sprinkle with salt and sweet paprika. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour.

Elizabeth’s Rice with Spinach

This is a great way to get some fresh spinach into a dish. Small families will need one cup of rice with two cups of water. My family needs two cups of rice with four cups of water. In a large pot, add some salt. Bring to a simmer. Put large bag of washed spinach on top of the water and cover. Lower heat to its lowest setting, so that water continues to simmer. Cook for 15 minutes. Do not open the lid to test the rice – this will release steam and interfere with its proper cooking. Only when the timer goes off should you test it. The rice should be puffy but with a slight bite. Not crispy. It should have absorbed all of the water. If it has not, you have another 5 minutes to go. When rice is done, remove from heat, fluff with a fork and recover for 5 minutes to let the steam continue its work on perfecting your rice.

Elizabeth’s Simply Steamed Brussel Sprouts

Cover bottom of a Corningware dish with a small amount of water. Cut off ends of fresh brussel spouts and place in dish. Drizzle lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover with glass dish. Steam in microwave for about 7 minutes.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Which Narnia Character Are You Most Like?

Ode to an Old Wreath

The first thing I hang the day after Thanksgiving is this old wreath. Now that I see it in the picture, I think it is looking a bit asymmetrical. It needs to be turned a bit; the poinsettias and leaves need to be more properly placed. But I love it.

I have had this same wreath for ever so long, and like it much better than the standard green wreath that must be purchased new each year. I like it because it is old, and because it says so much about us.

It says, hello, greetings, and Merry Christmas! We love teddy bears because we are friendly and snuggly and loveable. We were recycling way before it was popular because our great-grandparents lived through the Great Depression, reused things out of necessity, and passed on their stories through oral tradition.

My great-grandfather used to go to the dump three times a day to pick up re-usable items. My favorite thing in his house was a tarnish brass frog with a wide open mouth that served as a pencil holder. That came from the dump. I would love to have it on my desk top to remind me of him.

The doorknocker, inscribed MILLER, was a gift from the real estate agent (who also was a family friend) who helped us find our house. We moved in one month before the birth of our firstborn. The gold wreath used to hang on my parents’ front door before they moved off Long Island, the same year we married. The ribbons came off of gifts that were given to us. The poinsettias were left over from a Christmas project my mom and I did when I was a teenager. The bear was a gift topper from way back when.

The little bears were purchased from a little boy named Kevin. Kevin came knocking at our door the first year we lived in this house. He was selling Christmas ornaments as a fundraiser for school. We were the first door he had knocked on. He wore glasses and was so shy that he did not know what to say. I took the brochure from him and picked out the set of miniature teddy bear ornaments. Kevin joined the Marines this fall.

They repeatedly say on all the purging and organization shows that you don’t need things to bring back memories. They say you can take a picture of the item if necessary, and it will serve the same purpose. I have plenty of pictures of my Christmas trees in photo albums, but nothing is so powerful as opening up the boxes of ornaments and holding something you have not seen for eleven months. On the bottom of these boxes I have handmade ornaments that have long ago fallen apart. I do not hang them – I glance at them once when taking out ornaments and once more when putting them back. I wouldn’t throw them out for anything.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Traveling Jury

Today my eldest daughter was tried and found guilty by a traveling jury.

I was snug in my bed as the house repeatedly shook early this morning. The kids were going in and out of the house, slamming the door behind them each time. Then my eldest daughter burst in, exclaiming that her sister had fallen and the bus was coming!

I ran down the stairs as my middle daughter fell through the open door, crying that her big sister had tripped her. “Show me, quick,” I said. No blood. Then I saw the bus coming around the corner. I ran to the freezer, popped out an ice cube, and handed it to her. I gave her a kiss, wiped away her tears, and gently nudged her out the door. Then I yelled to my eldest, “You’re in big trouble when you get home!”

When just-been-crying Nine climbed onto the bus and just-got-into-trouble Eleven climbed on the bus, all the kids knew something was up. They soon got the brief story out and, deciding a fair trial by jury was appropriate, appointed attorneys for each of them.

“Why did you trip your sister on her way to the bus?” demanded the attorney of the victim.

“It was her job to make sure everyone was wearing the appropriate coat,” explained the attorney of the defendant, “The supposed victim was not wearing a warm enough coat and my client was trying to get her to put on her winter coat.”

Surprisingly, no argument was made about the temperature, which was slightly under 40 degrees.

This explanation was not deemed acceptable to the jury. The accused was found guilty by the majority.

But when the case went to Supreme Court, Mommy gave the final ruling. Innocent, by reason of trying to do the right thing.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Elizabeth’s Divinely Simple Cooking

I cook from scratch every night. If you are thinking of the recipes in magazines with their complicated lists of ingredients and multiple steps, you might think this to be daunting. But my meals are very simple, often a variation of the same theme, yet never quite the same twice. I like things that can be thrown together very quickly and left to cook while I tend to the children.

I use mostly fresh produce, with a moderate dose of olive and/or canola oil, salt, and pepper. (I keep an oil dispenser handy in which I make a mixture of about 20% olive oil to 80% canola oil.)

My method of choice for cooking meats and fish is baking, because once it is dressed you can basically ignore it until you smell that it is almost done. I love to use glass Pyrex baking dishes for this. For fish and thinly cut chicken, I cover the dish with aluminum foil to keep the meat from drying out.

I like to steam my vegetables in the microwave, in a glass corningware dish.

On the side, I usually make pasta, rice, or potatoes.

Elizabeth’s Simple American Lamb Chops

Coat glass baking dish lightly with olive and/or canola oil
Place lamb chops in the dish.
Cover the lamb lightly with oil.
Sprinkle with rosemary and marjoram.
Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes or until slightly browned and cooked inside.

Elizabeth’s Simple Quartered Potatoes

Coat the bottom of a glass baking dish with olive and/or canola oil.
Wash and quarter potatoes.
Place potatoes in a single layer in dish.
Spray generously with canola or olive oil.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Bake at 375 degrees for about one hour or until lightly browned and fork tender.

Elizabeth’s Simply Steamed Asparagus

Put a small amount of water in the bottom of a corningware dish.
Wash asparagus; cut off the woody ends.
Place asparagus in dish.
Sprinkle with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Cover with glass cover.
Steam in microwave on high for about 7 minutes.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Eve of the First Sunday of Advent

Tonight is the eve of the First Sunday of Advent! Tonight my children are writing their letters to the Christ Child. They will promise to be good and ask for five of their Christmas wishes. He will leave a special Advent Bead Box, in which they will deposit beads every time they do a good deed. On Christmas Eve they will put the box under the tree as a gift to the Christ Child.

Here is a list of posts I have written in the past on Advent traditions we celebrate.

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers
This is one of my favorites, as it details many of the traditions Europeans used to celebrate during Advent. We have adopted many of these as our own.

Kicking Off Advent: Our Christmas and Jesse Trees

O Little Chocolate House
I have been making this little chocolate house for a few special people every year since I was little.

The Miller Family Spreadsheet
(about how I organize all the Christmas-related tasks on paper)

Christmas Greetings
What do you do with your Christmas cards? This is what we do.

Complaining at Christmas Time
We are all guilty of it – and then we feel guilty.

My 100th post – a brief description of a typical night during Advent.

Holiday Decorating on a Dime (or Less)

For Goodness Sake, Shop these Real Christmas Stores
The top eight retailers that are using the word Christmas this year.

Painting by Piero di Cosimo
The Visitation with Saint Nicholas and Saint Anthony Abbot, c. 1490
Samuel H. Kress Collection

Friday, November 28, 2008

Standing All Alone in the Twilight

The day before Thanksgiving, I attended an after-school party at my children’s Catholic school. Only a few mothers were present, and I soon gave up on being included in any adult conversation. So I sat with my children and made chit-chat with their friends. Later a mother whom I was on friendly terms with came in. She had known the other moms for years and was my passport into the circle.

No sooner had I sat down than I was ready to leave. First the talk was about Black Friday sales, which I had no interest in. Then came the shocker.

“Have you and your daughters seen Twilight yet?” asked my acquaintance.

I knew this was the number one movie, a romance based on a series of books about vampires in high school, and that high school girls were crazy about the series. I never expected it to be a topic among Catholic mothers of middle schoolers.

“No,” I said, simply. The other mothers replied that they had seen it, or were planning to see it, and were reading the books along with their daughters. They found nothing objectionable, and even thought the stories to be “sweet”.

I was troubled, yet my tongue was mute. For one thing, I knew nothing I said would make a difference; they would just think I was weird, causing them to pity my daughters as being “overprotected”. The other thing is that I had not actually seen the movie or read the books. But I don’t have to try drugs to know they are bad for me; where there’s smoke there is often fire; and a wise man hides from trouble. I have taught my children how to spot literature and media that are wholesome vs. not. The symbolism of subject-matter is important in the quick identifying of the sheep vs. the goats in this arena.

Unicorns, for example, are a symbol of Christ, and many beautiful stories can be found based on them. I have heard that vampires are the antithesis of Christ. He gave His blood that we might live; vampires take others blood so they can walk the night. I have also heard that the first pornography was based on vampires; both are based on the degradation of the human body.

As Leticia Velasquez says in “Catholic Media Review”, “This is a phenomenon which Catholics must examine before embracing; anything that the Culture of Death embraces with such ferocity can't be healthy.”

Perhaps this is why I am not quickly embraced into social circles at the school. Half the time I stand there dumb-stricken because I have nothing to say that would be both honest and socially acceptable!

In homeschooling circles the opposite was true. During the peak of Harry Potter’s popularity there was big controversy over whether or not to let your kids read the series. Homeschoolers could agree to disagree on this. But whatever your opinion, it was respected.

In mainstream schools, there is a peer pressure among mothers that parallels that of the children they are raising. Different is weird and discouraged. Trying to live up to the golden standard of Catholic morals can put you in a lonely place.

Driving home, I was saddened by what had transpired. But then I was lifted up, as I thought of the friends I have found. I thought of the courageous stands they have made in their own circles, whether at work, school, or church. I thought of the mother who had questioned the movies being shown in kindergarten and donated a Christian video series as an alternative. I thought of the teacher at a Catholic school who was criticized for bringing up Obama and the abortion issue as part of a current events discussion in an eight grade class. I thought of the pro-life coordinator who is viewed as a radical by the religious education office at her own church. I thought of my own mother, who refused to give the devil a foothold into her home by allowing occult literature into the house.

And as twilight approached, I knew I was not standing all alone.

Venice Twilight by Claude Monet, 1908

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Golden Standard in Friendship

Tonight I am thankful for my dear friends who reach the “gold standard”, as described in the wonderful book of Sirach.

“A kind mouth multiplies friends, and gracious lips prompt friendly greetings.
Let your acquaintances be many, but one in a thousand your confidant.
When you gain a friend, first test him, and be not too ready to trust him.
For one sort of friend is a friend when it suits him, but he will not be with you in time of distress.
Another is a friend who becomes an enemy, and tells of the quarrel to your shame.
Another is a friend, a boon companion, who will not be with you when sorrow comes.
When things go well, he is your other self, and lords it over your servants;
But if you are brought low, he turns against you and avoids meeting you.
Keep away from your enemies; be on your guard with your friends.
A faithful friend is a study shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure.
A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance his worth.
A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy, such as he who fears God finds;
For he who fears God behaves accordingly, and his friend will be like himself.”

Sirach 6:5-17

If you don’t have a friend like this, start looking. If you do, recognize her great value and treat her as such.

Happy Thanksgiving !

Painting by Norman Rockwell

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Who Needs a Stud?

Are you tired of nagging your husband to put up some shelves in the garage, pantry, or closet? You don’t need a man to do this job for you. Any gal worth her salt can find a stud and get this job done in a jiffy. All you need for your working partners are your level and your stud finder.

Get yourself over to Home Depot and buy the materials to get started. Bring along the measurements of the height, width, and depth of the shelving you desire. Purchase two uprights for each set of shelves. Figure they will be about 18 inches apart to decide how many sets you will need. If you want to store really heavy stuff you will need double uprights. For medium weight stuff, a single standard will do. The standards come in zinc, brown, and white. How deep do you want your shelf? Pick out the brackets to go with your uprights. If you need to buy the actual shelf, those are available in pre-finished, pre-cut boards in white or brown. You would buy a ten-inch wide shelf to go with a ten-inch wide bracket. Make sure all the parts fit together properly.

You will also need a pencil, stud finder, yardstick, level, and screws, 1 ½ to 2 inches long. You can use a drill or Phillips Head screwdriver.

Starting on the left side of the wall, use the stud finder or the old hammer trick to find the first stud. This can be anywhere between 14 and 18 inches from the start of the wall. Make several marks down the line of where the first upright will go. If they all seem to line up, you should have found the correct location of the stud.

Now decide how far from the ceiling you want the upright to start. Remember if you are too close to the ceiling those slots will be useless. I decided on 6 inches for mine. Measure the distance down from the ceiling and draw a small straight line.

Take your upright and line it up with the stud marks. Put a level next to the upright and shift it until the bubble on the level is in between the two center marks. Do not use your eye or the ceiling as your guide. No building is ever completely level.

Drill a screw into the central hole on the upright first. Check to make sure the upright is still vertically level. Then put in the other screws. You will know you are hitting a stud when you feel and hear the screw twisting into hard wood.

Now find the next stud. Again, this can be between 14 and 18 inches from your first stud. Put the level horizontally on top of the first upright and draw a line where the top of the second upright should go. Repeat steps for installing the upright.

Repeat all steps until you have installed all of the uprights.

Now decide how high you want each of the shelves to go. Put the brackets into the slats and give a few downward taps with the hammer to install. On my shelves, I still have room for two rows of shelves on top; I need to purchase 8 more brackets.

Finally, put the shelves on your brackets and you are ready to go! I happen to have enough scrap wood in my shed that I can cut the shelves to fit and save myself some money. After I purchase the remaining brackets, this project will have cost me approximately $30.

Above is a picture of the standards I installed today, complete with the spiders on the ceiling, pencil marks, and a wayward hole from a mistake I made in finding a stud. From start to finish, this took 45 minutes. This is a great starter project because deciding where to make a hole is not the life-or-death decision it would be in your living room.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Mental Clutter

Sherlock Holmes, the character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, expressed an interesting view of the memory. Dr. Watson wanted to know how the detective could remember such peculiar details and make the intricate connections among them. He explained that the brain was like an attic. It only has so much room to store things. If any bit of information had nothing to do with his work, he would not let it in. If a bit turned out to be “clutter”, he had to throw it out to make room for new information.

From what I learned about the brain in my psychology classes, it seems to have an endless capacity for storing information. However, I have always thought this comparison of the brain to an attic space to be quite useful. If I can find a use for some new information, I invite it in. Otherwise, I block it out.

Friends are continually amazed that I could have passed the same stores hundreds of times without noticing them. Why would I? There are only several stores on the main route through town that have any use for me: the food store, Wal-mart, the library, Home Depot, the chocolate store, the post office, and the gas station. If I need a specialty store, I will look in the yellow pages to locate it. This enables me to go on my way without the distractions of extraneous buildings that are not on my list of errands.

I had been in one particular friend’s house a dozen times before I noticed the huge widescreen television that occupied a large portion of the den. I had to see it because we were watching a movie on it! “Wow, that’s some big TV you have here,” I commented. “How could you miss this monstrosity?” she questioned. I was there to see her, not her t.v.; therefore it didn’t register.

I picked up a copy of the classic "On Writing Well" by William Zinsser and have been happily devouring its advice. There is a whole chapter devoted to "clutter"! What he means by that is verbal clutter - extra words that don't add any meaning to one’s writing. But he also, in his 30-year anniversary edition, adds the idea of psychological clutter, stressing the burden of extraneous thoughts on trying to get clean ideas out on paper.

This suddenly put in perspective something a writing friend had said about her clutter preventing her from being creative. As simple as I have tried to keep my mental processes, my physical attic is full. So are all my closets and drawers. I am one of those who “boxes” her clutter and puts it on a top shelf of a closet, under the bed, or in the attic.

As I open up a box, a flood of memories comes pouring out, as a droplet of gas enclosed in a small space will spread out to fill a whole room. Like the physical box of stuff, the memories associated with them have been compartmentalized into a small portion of my brain. I might think my brain is de-cluttered, but really I just have put the clutter away to be dealt with later. As I deal with each thing, I can process the idea that goes with it. My daily de-cluttering time thus has become part of my mental writing time, because it helps de-clutter me spiritually.

I have been imagining my house completely streamlined, with only a few beautiful things in sight, fitting the form and function of each room. Would such a house be boring? Would such a person be boring?

For Sherlock Holmes Fans:

48 of the 60 stories in The Canon of stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are out of copyright and can be downloaded in text format at 221 Baker

Sherlock Holmes, the movie, will be released in 2009.

Kelly Mom's Advice for Breastfeeding Mothers

I just love this website and have it stored to my favorites for easy reference. Many times your general physician really has no idea about whether or not a medication prescribed for you is safe for breastfeeding. He or she will tell you to ask your pediatrician or ob/gyn. Very often, they are just guessing as well. So I always double-check at this website. She references primary documentation that you can read for your edification.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Warning about this Sunday's Second Collection

Why should you return the second collection envelope EMPTY this Sunday? Read this revealing essay from the theological magazine "First Things".
Obama and the Bishops
By Richard John Neuhaus
I am printing out a portion of this article and enclosing it in my envelope instead of cash.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Story Girl by L.M. Montgomery

“The Story Girl” was L.M. Montgomery’s personal favorite among the books she had finished by the end of her residence at Prince Edward Island, according to her autobiography, “The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career”.

Set in the sleepy rural town of Carlisle, this is the story of a group of children who spend an unforgettable summer together. It is told through the eyes of Beverley King, who is reminiscing about his boyhood memories of the Story Girl and all the good times the children had together while listening to her stories.

Many of the stories were actual occurrences that had been rumored throughout the town of Cavendish, Lucy Maud’s early residence, and a certain fringe character named Peg Bowen, a mentally unstable woman whom all the children were afraid of, is the one real live person that Montgomery transplanted into her books.

I read a review on Amazon in which the reader wondered if The Story Girl was actually the young Lucy Maud. I doubt it, for while Sara Stanley, a.k.a. The Story Girl, was an excellent verbal storyteller, her written stories fell absolutely flat.

One could certainly find one’s young self in at least of the diverse lot of children who cast their lots together that summer. There is the beautiful Felicity, who knows how to cook lovely things but wishes she could be as interesting as The Story Girl. In turn, The Story Girl wishes she could do something useful, but fails every time she tries to bake. Cecily is all-around sweet and well-wishing. Sara Ray is dull but a good and loyal friend. Peter, the hired boy, seems to have much promise as a leader. Felix is chubby and sensitive. And Beverley does not tell much about himself – but he is an insightful story-teller with a great memory and a well-kept journal.

The tales are quite diverse in range: funny, sad, wild, scary. What they have in common is that they all have a captive audience when told by Sara Stanley. One could read the book for the little stories alone. But there is a larger story throughout, one of the personal growth of all the children. They learn about the importance of forgiveness, the silliness of grudges, the lost days given to fear. They also learn that pickles and milk might bring on enviably wild dreams, but are also quite poisonous to the stomach when taken together.

The story is timeless as a tale of the importance of stories in general, to bringing friends and family together. This book is well-suited to being read aloud to your children, given for their personal reading, or read by adults for pleasure.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Alpine Path by L.M. Montgomery

Alongside my daughters, I have been losing myself in the timeless stories woven by L. M. Montgomery for months now. After reading about Anne’s motherhood years, including the sad story of a son lost to war, I began to wonder how autobiographical Lucy Maud’s stories really were.

When I found that Montgomery had written her own story of her career, originally published in installments in a magazine in 1917, I just had to have it. I got my copy of “The Alpine Path: The Story of my Career” from Amazon and devoured it immediately.

I had just finished reading the Emily series and found that much of what she wrote about her own childhood had been expressed through the Emily character – much more so than in the Anne series. Anne was imaginative and dreamy, and also had some success in publishing stories while she was young, but she gave that all up when she became a mother. Emily was a born writer to the core, and delayed marriage did not keep her from being happy because she found complete fulfillment in her writing. Emily often wrote in her journal about climbing “the alpine path” to success in her writing career.

“To write has always been my central purpose around which every effort and hope and ambition of my life has grouped itself,” Montgomery writes.

Writers have always been told to “write what you know”, and Lucy Maud found that writing in the setting of Prince Edward Island, with characters that naturally sprung up out of the environment in which she grew up, came naturally to her. Many of the actual anecdotes were actually true, and were used most often in her favorite work, “The Story Girl”.

But the characters were always created purely in her own mind, with the exception of a woman who appears on the fringes throughout “The Story Girl”. “Any artist knows that to paint exactly from life is to give a false impression of the subject. Study from life he must. . .making use of the real to perfect the ideal. But the ideal, his ideal must be behind and beyond it all. The write must create his characters, or they will not be life-like.”

Early in her career, she made inroads by sending poetry to literary magazines. Only ten percent of what she sent were published. At this time, she writes, “I never expect to be famous. I merely want to have a recognized placed among good workers in my chosen profession. That, I honestly believe, is happiness, and the harder to win the sweeter and more lasting when won.”

Montgomery wrote “Anne of Green Gables” chapter by chapter, in time carved away from busy days at work as an editor. It was rejected by publishers several times, and the author was astonished by its worldwide success. At the time of its acceptance, she writes, “I wrote it for love, not money, but very often such books are the most successful, just as everything in the world that is born of true love has life in it, as nothing constructed for mercenary ends can ever have.”

As importance as her work was to her, how modest she was about the quality of her writing! “Not a great book, but mine, mine, mine, something which I had created,” she writes when she receives her first copy of “Anne”.

The last few chapters cover some of Montgomery’s travels with her husband. Not much is revealed about their courtship or marriage, and the book leaves open a whole lifetime to be explored. The author was to write many more books after this mid-career autobiography.

This book offers great insight as to the workings of a great author’s mind as she is just beginning to taste the success of the fruits of her labor. It is a must for every aspiring writer’s bookshelf, or that of anyone who just cannot get enough of the stories by L.M. Montgomery.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Other Women: Envy or Inspiration?

“I’ve always believed that one woman’s success can only help another woman’s success.”
Gloria Vanderbilt

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

10 Positive Things to Tell Yourself When You Have a Cold

1. It could be worse.
2. It will not last forever.
3. Looking miserable will not help.
4. Nobody is going to feel sorry for me.
5. This is my chance to read a good book.
6. I get to take a day off – or at least work at a slower pace today.
7. Oh the things I will do when I am all better!
8. This is my chance to enjoy a new herbal tea – and lots of it!
9. Honey by the spoonful – yum!
10. Gargling is fun! Gargle a tune. Pretend you are at the beach and just went under a wave, swallowing lots of salt water…

Saint Elizabeth feeding the sick in a hospital. Oil painting on copper by Adam Elsheimer, Frankfurt am Main c. 1598.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ice Cream Party

After attempting to make ice cream by hand this summer, I had been on the lookout for an ice cream maker at a reasonable price for several weeks. Finally, I found the Rival Electric Ice Cream Maker on markdown at Walmart for $20. I scooped it up, thinking of all the money I will be saving on ice cream this winter!

Really, I am simply offended that the premium ice cream manufacturers would have the audacity to redesign their “half gallon” packages to contain only 1.75 quarts – and think we would not notice. They keep raising their prices and making their packages smaller. The King Kullen brand is the only option in the freezer that is still a real half gallon.

I also read that bargain brands are artificially fluffed up to a greater volume with air. So I am left not knowing whom to believe and what is really a good value. If I make it myself, I know exactly how much of what ingredients are in it.

I also thought this might make a good activity for my daughter’s birthday party in December. From reading the directions on the box, it looked like we could mix together the ingredients at the beginning of the party, and two hours later be eating it.

I purchased the ingredients for Cookies ‘n’ Cream yesterday. I figured we would give the machine a test run today. The kids had a half day, and I was picking them up from school along with a classmate of my eldest daughter. On the way home, I told them we would start mixing as soon as we got home, so that it would be ready to eat by mid-afternoon. If anything went wrong, I had purchased Blue Bunny Cookies ‘n’ Cream as a backup.

I got out the half-and-half and started reading the recipe in greater detail. I had already made several errors! Thinking that the “whipping cream” was for the top of the ice cream, I had purchased a can of whipped cream instead. Now all I had was milk and half-and-half. Oh well, it would have to do.

I also could not find rock salt. The closest thing I could find was course kosher salt. This was for the melting of the ice around the mixing canister. I also had not made enough ice. But we had set out to make ice cream and, by golly, we were going to make ice cream.

The recipe also called for some cooking, which the girls were not interested in. I scalded the milk, dissolved the sugar, and mixed in six cups of milk and the entire quart of half-and-half. This now had to be refrigerated for a half hour. The girls played a game of chess.

Finally it was time to use the machine. We poured the mixture into the canister, surrounded it by ice, layered with kosher salt, and set the mixer into motion. The girls crushed a bag of Oreos and ate another. They put in one whole cookie as a “prize” for whoever got it in the end.

After a half hour of mixing, I checked the mixture. It looked more like a milkshake than ice cream. We added the crushed cookies and let the mixer work for another ten minutes.

I opened the canister. “I don’t know girls. Do you want to taste it and tell me what you think?”

We all agreed it was yummy, for a milkshake. Our guest voted for eating it just as it was. My girls wanted to let it freeze for a while.

So I put the canister in the freezer for a half hour. This made it colder, but not any more solid. Our guest would have to leave soon.

I set up the table and made a proposal. We would use the Blue Bunny ice cream as the “primary” base for our ice cream sundaes and dribble our milkshake on top. We also had whipped cream, sprinkles, and cherries to add. This was agreeable to all.

I had a small cup of it and it was good – you could taste the real cream – and filling as well.

The girls piled their bowls high with all the ice cream and trimmings. They were not half done when they were moaning that they could not eat anymore. “Were your eyes bigger than your stomachs?” I teased them.

I wrapped up my kids’ bowls for after dinner. Our guest had nothing left but a black, liquidy mess of Oreo-milkshake.

After dinner, I checked the freezer. Part of the ice cream had solidified – the rest was still liquid. At 9:00 p.m. (mind you, this process had started at noon), the ice cream was starting to look as it should, with only ten percent of it looking melted. I will be sure to report on how it tastes tomorrow night!

As in my story about the garden bulbs that were eaten by moles, this day was all about the process. The goal was to do something together with my children, hopefully to produce something delicious. We did have fun, and we did have a good dessert. Things did not turn out exactly as expected, but that is all part of the learning process.

If we ever do perfect the art of homemade ice cream, they will never forget the trials and errors that went into it. And if we don’t? No big deal – I’ll just have to keep sucking it up as I pay for those overpriced, undersized containers of ice cream.

I am also still on the lookout for a good girls’ party activity.

The Rival Ice Cream Maker pictured above is available at Target for $24.99. Just read the instructions before you start!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Where Moths Destroy

We’re headed for a recession, the experts all said in the summer. Now they predict it will get worse, much worse, before things get better. Many have put their trust in Obama, thinking he will take care of their mortgages, car payments, medical care, and college tuition costs. For these poor people (and I mean this in the spiritual sense), they are bound to be sorely disappointed.

I picked up a copy of “Kitt Kittredge: An American Girl” as a Christmas gift for my children. This tale, set during the now-oft-mentioned Great Depression, shows how a family can get through difficult financial times. We missed it in the theatres this July. Amazingly, the one local theatre who ran it only gave it two weeks before removing it. So I am really looking forward to seeing it with my kids.

As I watch my children’s poor little college accounts dwindle in value month by month, I can just imagine how devastating the loss must be to those who have invested many thousands.

There could be a bright light at the end of this tunnel. We Americans have enjoyed physical comfort for so long, yet we crave more. Instead of being thankful for what we have, we complain about what we have not. Could the end of this be a spiritual revival for America – and the rest of the world?

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroy, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be."
Matthew 6:19-21

This resource about an online accounting degree may be of interest to people who feel like finances are one of their strengths.

Illustration: Misery by Fernando Pelez

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Teach Your Kids to FLY!

Thinking back to my childhood, I seemed to have been born with an organizational system in my head. My room was kept beautifully. All my collections were kept together in a way that made sense. If Mom asked me to organize the pantry, or Dad needed help sorting screws in the garage, I was all too happy to dive into the project and see it to completion.

An only child for 11 years, I was the definition of a perfectionist. This quality was of a great advantage in academics, and would have been the key to success in a worldly career. But in family life, where the tending of primary relationships is key, it is a hindrance.

Weaning myself away from perfectionism was a process that took several years, and many major life changes. Marriage was a first step, birth an important second. However, I was still cleaning my floors every day when my first child was a newborn. It took a second child to make me tired enough not to care so much. Spic-and-span changed to clean-enough.

I first heard about FLY LADY when I started homeschooling. A quite vibrant young mother with several children told about how Fly Lady’s system had gotten her in control of her house and her life. I was skeptical, thinking everyone needs to come up with her own system of organization.

Hearing about setting timers was a real turn-off to me. After constantly wearing a watch through my twenty-fifth year, I found that the ability to go without one was like taking off one’s fetters. I could appreciate the minutes and all the lovely baby things that could be encompassed within them.

In hindsight, if I had followed Fly Lady’s tips during my homeschooling years, I would never have gotten into the spot I am now in. While my main living areas are in good order, my drawers and closets are filled with unsorted collections of things (“clutter”).

My most organized friend congratulated me on all the strategies I have been following to keep clutter at a minimum in the common living areas. I blushed reading her e-mail, wondering what she would think of my garage. In my post, I was focusing on my successes so I could push forward with the improvements needed.

My biggest problem is with my children’s rooms. I barely have the time to check if they have made their beds, and they get out of control really quickly. Fly Lady has a section just for kids, to make cleaning fun and doable. I just loved her Student Control Journal. I printed out three copies, put them into binders, and presented them to the children. They pored through them, set the kitchen timer for fifteen minutes, and went through the zone of the day. I could not believe what a difference such a short time span could make.

My friend thought I must have been processing something mental, and I denied it. But really, this all came on immediately after hearing the election results. I watched a show called “Neat” (on The Fitness Channel), in which a book lover had to narrow her beloved books from four shelves to one. I immediately went to my bookshelves and filled a box with books to donate.

A week later, I am still in de-cluttering mode, fully aware that I am trying to process the enormous implications of the election results for our country. I had been so anxious about it – and was managing my mental let-down through cleaning and sorting.

I can see how constant cleaning could be a coping mechanism for those with obsessive-compulsive disorder. And that is why I am begging people to take this system with a grain of salt. If your home is in total disarray, you need a system. If just certain areas are in disorder, hit those areas – but do not let it take over your life. If everything is in relatively good order, please do not start wrapping up your sheets with ribbons Martha Stewart style. Take your kids for a walk and enjoy the wildly divine order of nature.

FLY stands for Finally Love Yourself. If you want to teach your kids how to FLY, you need to teach them balance. They need to respect their home and environment, but also feel free to be messy and creative and unfettered by time restraints. For everything there is a time.

And for everything there is a season. For me, the pendulum had to take me further center. It had to swing a little farther to the left for me to get there. Life is a constant ebb of change requiring us to focus on our ultimate goals and constantly adjust our schedules, habits, and expectations to follow God’s will for our paths.

Painting above: Renoir's "Charpentier and Her Children"

Monday, November 10, 2008

Elizabeth’s Slow-Cooked Lamb Stew

Imagine coming home from an after-school activity to find your house filled with the smell of freshly cooked lamb. The table is set and dinner is ready. Was your husband home? Did your mother come to visit? Did your fairy godmother come to your rescue? Is this a fantasy or can it possibly be real?

Once you become comfortable with the idea of crock-pot meals, such a scenario is quite possible – and it is what keeps me sane during the cross-country season. I set the table, prepare the meal, and turn the crock-pot on low before I leave the house.

To prevent fire hazards, I always use the low setting, never use too much liquid, always check my cord, plug into a GFI-protected outlet, and make sure nothing flammable is in the surrounding area.

Coat bottom of 4-quart crock-pot with olive oil.
Layer 1.5 pounds of lamb neck stew meat on bottom of pot.
Sprinkle rosemary, thyme, and cumin (go light on the cumin) over the meat.
Cut up one red onion and layer it on top of the meat.
Sprinkle the onion with salt and pepper.
Cut 8 potatoes in quarters; layer on top of the onions.
Add 1 cup of orange juice, slowly covering the potatoes.
Add 2 cups of water.
The water will just cover the meat. The potatoes will cook by virtue of the steam. If they are completely covered with water they will be soggy.
Cook on low until fork tender, about 4.5 hours.