Friday, February 27, 2009

Elizabeth’s Simplified Manicotta

Did you know that you don’t have to precook pasta or sauce when making a baked Italian dish? This discovery has saved me lots of time and trouble. No more dealing with hot, floppy lasagna, stuffed shells, or manicotta while stuffing them with ricotta cheese. No more cleaning sauce off the stove and walls from the lengthy simmering of a homemade sauce. No more cleaning of multiple pots and bowls from premixing.

Here is how I made tonight’s meatless manicotta. Modify to make stuffed shells or lasagna. To add meat, simply stir-fry meat in a pan with olive oil, salt, and pepper until cooked. Sprinkle into the sauce or on top of the dish before adding cheese.

Coat the bottom of a 9x13 glass baking dish with olive oil. Pour in a large can of crushed tomatoes. Sprinkle with kosher salt, pepper, and one teaspoon of nutmeg (optional). Slice garlic and intersperse into the sauce. One by one, stuff uncooked manicotta noodles with ricotta cheese. Use the end of a wooden spoon to help. Place the manicotta in the sauce and turn it so that it is completely covered with sauce. The sauce should come at least halfway up the noodle. If it does not, add another can of crushed tomatoes with a little more salt and pepper. Seal tightly with aluminum foil. The pasta will be cooked by the moisture of the sauce and the steam that is trapped inside.

Bake at 400 degrees for a 30 to 40 minutes. You may want to turn the noodles after twenty minutes. It is done when the noodles are al dente.

Remove the foil and cover with sliced mozzarella cheese. Bake for about five minutes until the cheese has melted.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

What Not to Write About

If we have a conscience, we mom writers have so much we feel can’t write about that it is amazing we are able to write at all!

When I sit down to write, there is a whole host of people sitting before me in my mind, judging what I am thinking about putting down in black and white. Some of them are shaking their heads, saying, “No, you can’t write about that, Elizabeth.”

Family – while most of us write about our families, every family has its own unwritten rules about what will be kept private. When one is consumed with a problem that falls into the “private” domain, it can become almost impossible to write! And so much of our experience falls under the family domain. It’s hard to talk about your own childhood without admitting that your family isn’t perfect.

Friends – If we are writing something flattering, we usually don’t have any qualms about mentioning a friend by name. However, sometimes I want to touch on an experience that has to do with a friend and I wonder, will she mind if I talk about this?

Former Friends – I have no negative feelings toward people classified as “former friends”. I still pray for them. If the relationship was not meant to continue, there was probably a good reason for that. Sometimes I wonder if they ever read my blog, and I think about the topics they were sensitive about. If they were touchy about those subjects, others will be too. This helps me to speak about those things in a more sensitive fashion.

Teachers and Other Moms at School – I often write about things that affect me and my children at the school they attend. While I never mention the name of the school and don’t even know if anyone there knows I write a blog, I sometimes wonder how they would feel about some general criticisms I have made of the school. If people seem stand-offish with me, I ask myself if it’s possible they read about, and recognized, themselves in my blog.

God – I always hope that what I am writing is pleasing to God. He gave me the give of writing and I want to use it to glorify Him.

Last but not least: Ourselves – Whenever we write, we bare our souls. To what degree are we able to do that?

So, when I sit down to write, how do I keep all these voices at bay? I don’t. Every post is an act of courage. When I finally hit “Publish”, or put a manuscript in the mailbox, I feel like I can breath again.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

No Ashes for Me Today

I was unable to get to church today because my toddler, once again, is sick with a cold and fever.

“Don’t worry, it’s not a holy day of obligation,” my husband reminded me. He has reassured himself of this because he always works long hours during the week and cannot spare the time to attend church.

“At least the kids will get their ashes in school,” I say, as I whip up a tuna salad for our lunch.

Then I realize that I forgot to remind the kids not to use lunchmeat when they made their sandwiches last night. “Children are exempt before Confirmation, I think. Still, coming in with bologna sandwiches is not the fashionable thing to do in a Catholic School. I hope they don't get ribbed for it if they forgot.”

I had really thought I was ahead of the game this season of Lent. On Sunday I had my game plan of resolutions ready. I went food shopping and came home with two pounds of flounder for today’s dinner, and three pounds of ricotta cheese for Friday’s dinner. I even got a jumpstart on the decluttering I had planned to do. I had six cubic feet worth of stuff ready to go out the door today for donations. But God had other plans for me today. Maybe part of it was an extra dose of humility.

When the kids got home from school, I was preparing the flounder. “Hey, what did you kids make for lunch today?” I asked.

“Oh, Mom!” exclaimed my eleven-year-old, “We forgot we weren’t supposed to have meat! I had just finished my bologna sandwich when I realized it! I asked my math teacher if there were exceptions and she said to ask my religion teacher so I did. And she said if it was a mistake it’s okay, and if you’re under 14 you’re exempt. So then I felt better.”

She said she was giving up being mean to her siblings, having a messy room, and dessert. She said she’d have dessert on Sunday but not the other two. I liked her list.

Click here to read last year's post on Ash Wednesday.

Painting above: Christ Served by the Angels, Jacques de Stella, c. 1650

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Falling Off the Stability Ball

Like many other thirty-something moms, I am ever on the quest for firmer abs. My newest addition to my fitness equipment is an apparatus that has become increasingly popular on all the fitness shows. It is called a “stability ball”.

Much to the chagrin of my children, who wondered what this huge (72-inch in circumference) hot pink ball was doing on my bedroom, the ball is not for kicking or throwing. There are videos with very specific techniques in which one balances on the ball to increase the effectiveness of the exercises.

If you have ever seen this ball being used in info-mercials, let me tell you that it is much harder than it looks! The supple athletes on the show seem to effortless balance, doing the exercises with no strain and a smile on their faces. It is quite another scene in my living room.

Kids in school and toddler in bed, I bring my stability ball downstairs and turn on the video. First I’m supposed to sit on the ball and do sit-ups. This is definitely not what I thought it would be like. The ball keeps rolling from side to side. I wonder if I have filled it properly. Will it burst when I am finally able to sit on it? At long last, I am able to perform the sit-up properly and realize: this is really hard work!

Next the instructor is lying sideways, leaning casually against the ball as she does obliques. The ball gets away from me. The dog, stretch out on the couch, opens her eyes and looks at the ball, then me. She thinks I want to play. “Don’t you know I’m too old for this? I just want to nap,” she tells me with her eyes, then closes them again.

The final move defies logic. She is standing on her head, rear-end in the air, with her feet on the ball. “How bad do I really want this?” I ask myself. I feel the pouch of baby fat in my lower abdomen. “Bad enough to try.” I modify the move into something realistic.

The cool-down is delicious. I think about the stability ball and how it is much like the life I have chosen. We have been living on one income for most of our marriage, and my husband is self-employed. Financial instability is how we are used to living – but I count myself lucky. In the good weeks we save, and when a major appliance breaks on a bad week, we have no need to panic.

Others, who have thought themselves to be secure in a good job, suddenly find themselves unemployed and don’t know what to do. Their stability ball has burst underneath them. We have relied on self-discipline to keep our way of life; they have it suddenly forced upon them. No one’s life is completely secure, but we knew it all along. In the long run, I think our way is less stressful.

All of us need Christ to keep us in balance. As the economy falls around us, affecting more of the people we know, depleting the food pantries in our churches, we reach toward each other more, both giving and receiving. We turn to God more often, both in supplication and in thanksgiving. Let us never forget that we never have to go it alone.

“Why do you glory in your strength,
your ebbing strength, rebellious daughter?
You who trust in your treasures, saying,
‘Who can come against me?’”
Jeremiah 49:4

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Lenten Decision

“What should I give up for Lent?” my eleven-year-old asked, slouching into the couch.

“I can’t really give you the answer to that,” I replied, “You have to figure that out on your own.”

“Everybody in school already knows what they’re doing.”

“So what types of things are they giving up?”

“DS’s, TV, junk food…”

Those are all things we don’t do much of in our house, anyway. My kids don’t have hand-held video game devices, they don’t watch much TV, and I don’t buy any junk food.

“Remember what the priest talked about on Sunday, how what we give up should be something that makes sense for us, that cleanses us and improves our relationship with God and others?”


“Well, how about giving up behaviors that are harmful, like complaining, or teasing your brother, or having a messy room?” ( I couldn’t resist the opportunity to throw that one in.)

“I don’t know what to do…”

“Well, pray about it. And you don’t have to tell anyone what you’re giving up. It’s between you and God.”

Prayer, almsgiving, fasting. The three main components of Lenten practice, as outlined in Pope Benedict XVI’s Message for Lent.

I have some personal faults I will be working on, in addition to the following, which I am happy to share:

Prayer: Please join me in the 40 Days for Life. Pray the rosary once a day for the end of abortion. There are other activities you can join in on, such as peaceful vigils (which you can locate on the website), but prayer is something we can all do from anywhere.

Almsgiving: I am going to give up 40 cubic feet of CLUTTER! Every day I am going to get a box and remove 1 cubic foot of stuff that I don’t need and that I can donate to someone who does.

Fasting: Food usually isn’t a big part of my Lenten practice, except that I make fish twice a week instead of once. I am still nursing, so need all my meals. And I long ago gave up on almost all junk food, so there is not much I can really give up there.

The decision of what to do for Lent is a highly personal one. I wish you God-speed as you embark on your 40-day spiritual journey.

Painting by Ivan Kramskoy, Christ in the Wilderness, 1872.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Meowing Toddler in Church

Some days, our little one is quiet in church. Others, I feel the grey hairs springing up as I struggle to keep her noise down to a minimum. This morning, still in a partying mood from her little cousin’s birthday party last night, she sang “Frosty the Snowman” on our way to church. We knew we were in for trouble.

I get so distracted trying to keep her shennagans to a minimum, that sometimes I wonder why I even bother. But, when we were asked to go to a birthday breakfast this morning, we knew we couldn’t skip Mass for it. Attending Mass together is the one thing we are committed to doing together as a family. It is my husband’s only day off from work, and he likes to sleep late. We seldom arrive quite on time for the 11:00 Mass. But the ushers know we will be there, and often have six seats ready for us when we walk in the door.

Attending Mass together sets the tone for the entire week. Without it, something is off. Although I will rarely hear all, or even most, of the homily, I pick up bits and pieces; morsels that I really needed and thus was meant to hear. Joining hands to say The Lord’s Prayer and sharing the sign of peace, not to mention receiving the Holy Eucharist, are highlights of the experience.

My daughter was in rare form today. She started in as soon as we got into our pew, refusing to allow me to take off her coat. “No Mommy! I do it!” The best thing to do at this point is to leave her be. People staring at us probably are wondering why I don’t do something. My not touching her is preventing a bigger scene, please believe me. I really wish I could be invisible as her little voice crescendos during the most quiet parts of the Mass.

She was a really chatter-box today, her voice sweet and little as she talked to herself. I have to continually poke and stare at the older children to not provoke her into more obvious silliness. I only thought her meowing was not too awful when it became the low growl of a tiger – all in good fun, of course.

By the time the homily was over, she had decided she wanted to rest in my arms and be quiet. I tried to forget all she’d put me through in the past half hour, and buried my nose in her soft hair.

“People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them, and when the disciples saw this, they rebuked them.
Jesus, however, called the children to himself and said, "Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it." "
Luke 18:15-17 (NAB)

Painting above by Robert Campin 1375-1444 Netherlandish Painter
Virgin and Child in an Interior Oil on oak, National Gallery,London

Saturday, February 21, 2009

40 Days for Life Spring 2009

The 40 Days for Life Spring 2009 Campaign starts on Ash Wednesday and continues for 40 days. You can go to to find events near you. If you are unable to participate in an event in your area, you can make a personal commitment to fast and pray specifically for that purpose during Lent. For example, instead of making Fish on Fridays, I will make it on Sundays and Fridays. Actually, that is not much of a sacrifice for me, as I love fish. I am still thinking of what to give up. As moms, we already have given up most of our old vices and are used to doing without for the sake of our children. Each year it seems I have less and less to give up.
You can also consider giving a little more to your local Birthright center, or writing more letters to politicians to fight legislation that supports abortion.
This spring so much more hangs in the balance. The more we can do, the better.

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Sunday March 22: 10:30am, 3:00pm, 7:30pm

Friday, February 20, 2009

Pope Benedict's Message for Lent 2009

"He fasted for forty days and forty nights,
and afterwards he was hungry" (Mt 4,1-2)
You can read the message here:

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Fairness Doctrine is not Fair

Help radio commentators such as Michael Savage to retain their freedom of speech. Sign the World Net Daily's petition against the Fairness Doctrine here:

Playdate Overload

Winter vacation has been overscheduled, much to my chagrin. When we were homeschooling, we could spread things out much better, staggering quiet at-home days with social outings. Having to rely on the school calendar compresses too much into too small a time frame.

Another big change is the way playdates are handled. It used to be that a mom with four kids could get together with another mom with four kids. There was a whole mix of ages and everyone got along together. I still do this with an old homeschooling friend, but for the school friends it doesn’t work this way.

For the five days of winter vacation, I had to give each child a day on which he or she could schedule a playdate with one friend. That left one day for us to do a library program and one day to get together with the aforesaid homeschooling friend. (I fondly call that our “family playdate”.)

Today’s plans were canceled, leaving us with time to climb trees, read, write, and bake. Noone else is scheduled to come over, and I can relax about the cleanliness and orderliness of the house. We finally got to the doctor to see about a sinus problem one of the children was having.

Yesterday was an exciting day for my oldest one. Most of her school friends live several towns away, and it is a rare occasion when they can come over. So she got to have her two best friends over at once. The girls were so sweet. They went for a walk, had a valentine-themed luncheon, did makeovers, and played games.

But the self-imposed pressure to keep the house looking presentable until they arrived was awful. Together we polished furniture, cleaned bathrooms, cleaned and swept floors, and vacuumed. At noon I had a lovely lunch spread out on the table. They called and said they were going to be late.

That gave me two choices: I could wrap everything up and set it out again later, or I could sit watch over the table to make sure the dog didn’t jump up and eat it all. I chose the latter, busying myself in the kitchen until they arrived.

It turned out the mom dropping off and picking up did not have time to come in, so all my fears of judgment on my house were in vain. The girls had a lovely time and I enjoyed the knowledge that my daughter knows how to pick good friends.

“We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company.”
Psalms 55:14

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Encouraging the Discouraged

I was feeling discouraged this week by a number of things: the kids’ being sick, negative comments made by complete strangers, and the rejection of one of my most precious manuscripts.

It’s funny how you realize, while facing adversity yourself, that you can’t seem to give yourself the advice you would give others in the same situation. Yet, what bore me up were all those little things my friends said to try to make me feel better. Even just the fact that they were trying was a help.

Often one feels put in an uncomfortable position when trying to think of what to say to a person in need of comfort. If you ever were on the silent end of a phone while a friend grieved the death of a loved one, you know what I mean.

But anything is better than nothing. Even what you might think of as “lame” helps to bolster. Those little pebbles fill in the gaps between the more substantial rocks. And when you speak the truth in love, that forms one of the boulders your friend will lean on for support.

“A faithful friend is a sturdy 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: 14-17 (NAB)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Irrational Fears III: The Boo-Boo

When a toddler becomes fearful of an object, the simplest thing usually is to make it disappear for a while. However, what does one do when she is afraid of her own body?

Last month, my two-and-a-half-year-old tripped on her way into church. I didn’t know it until we got home, but there was a tiny abrasion on her knee underneath her stockings. She knew it was there, and held onto her stockings for dear life, refusing to let me take them off. “Boo boo!” she cried.

Finally I got them off. “It’s just a little boo boo,” I reassured her, “It’ll be gone soon.” She refused to have it covered with a bandage. To her, bandages serve to remind her there is a boo-boo. I think she even thinks a bandage is part of the boo-boo. She felt better when I had it covered with pants.

For a whole week, I had problems every time I had to change her. She was dreadfully afraid of having her pants taken off. She didn’t want to see her boo-boo, small as it was. When she needed a bath, she covered it with a washcloth.

The second week, it had faded for the most part, but she knew the skin was not intact. Now she would inspect it carefully, note that it was still there, and beg for it to be covered up again.

Finally, at the end of the second week, the remains of it came off in the bath. “Look,” I said, “the boo boo is really gone now.”

She looked at it and was completely relieved. The next day, she allowed me to dress her in stockings for church again.

This whole episode made me think that, on a really fundamental level, infants understand that their bodies are holy. God made them perfect, and anything less than that is just not acceptable. As adults, most of us have long ago given up on perfection, and accept the breaking down of our bodies as inevitable. We all need to be reminded from time to time of what my little one seems to already know in her heart: that we are all vessels of the Holy Spirit.

“Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.”
I Corinthians 3:16-17

Monday, February 16, 2009

Why My Floor is Never Clean

The last day of school before winter break, I knew I had my last chance to clean the floor. My floor extends from the front door all the way to the back door, through the kitchen, and to the garage. It is a porous tile, which sucks up all the dirt and gets darker over time. Although I sweep it daily and damp mop it a few times a week, the only way to get it looking clean is to use a three-in-one wax, which cleans, whitens, and protects in one step. It sounds easy, but there are a number of prerequisites to be met before I start.

1. The kids can’t be home.
2. The baby must be napping.
3. The husband cannot pay me a surprise lunch visit.
4. The dog cannot request to go in or out.
5. The phone cannot ring.
6. The front door bell cannot ring.

I start as soon as I have the baby down for her nap. I put the dog out, remove all loose furniture from the floor, sweep, and make sure I have all personal items within reach so I don’t have to backtrack over the wax: glass of water, telephone, etc.

This Friday, everything goes wrong with my plan. I have everything prepped to do the actual job, when my husband comes home for lunch. The baby is talking up a storm over the monitor; I don’t think she is going to nap.

I hang out in the living room, impatiently. “You know I love you, honey, but I’m kind of on a time table here. Do you think you’ll be leaving soon?”

He grabs his sandwich, kisses me, and runs out. He’s in a hurry too.

I wet my mop, pour out the solution, and start. I realize I’m low on solution and must really stretch it to cover the whole floor. Then the phone rings. I have to walk on the wet floor. It’s nobody. I cover my tracks and continue.

The dog is jumping on the door. I ignore her.

The doorbell rings. I look out the front window. It’s just a package. The delivery man leaves it there and departs.

Finally, I have reached the front door. The baby is yelling, “Tissue!” which means she wants her nose wiped.

I run up the stairs. I’ll keep busy up there for the next 20 minutes, while the floor dries. Then the kids will be home for winter break, covering the floor with several new layers of dirt.

“Who can say, “I have made my heart clean, I am cleansed of my sin”?
Proverbs 20:9

Saturday, February 14, 2009

St. Valentine's Day

Happy St. Valentine's Day!
Or, in the words of my two-year-old, "Happy T-Tine Day!"

This is a stained glass etching of St. Valentine of Rome, by an unknown artist.

Above is a painting from EWTN's listing for St. Valentine. There were three different sainted martyrs named Valentine, all of them honored on February 14. The day became associated with romance by the English and French in the middle ages.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Irrational Fears II: The Yellow Singing Bird

At age two or so, many toddlers start developing irrational fears. For my littlest one, age 2 ½, this started a few weeks ago with her fear of “the bugasy”. Once I had made the cause of her fear disappear, it took about a week for her to forget about it. Then she started to be afraid of an innocent singing canary.

For her first birthday and Christmas, she received two collections of singing birds, created by the National Audubon Society: backyard birds, and water birds. The children love to sit in a pile of birds with her and make them all sing. This is what they were doing the afternoon before she suddenly took a fear to the yellow singing bird.

All of a sudden, I heard her scream, “NOOOO! No bird! Go away!” She could not have made herself more clear.

I made the bird disappear, but my seven-year-old son thought it was fun to get a reaction out of her. He took it out of the drawer where I had hid it, and showed it to her again. She screamed so loud it scared me.

For several days afterward, she would look on the top of the dresser, where I keep the birds in a wicker basket. I knew she was scanning them to make sure the yellow bird was not there. “It’s gone,” she would say, with satisfaction.

What made her suddenly be so scared of something that had formerly given her pleasure? The kids theorized that the yellow bird bore some remote resemblance to a “star monster” that they had seen on a Scooby Doo episode the same afternoon she had attached fear to the bird. Who knows?

I bought her a Winnie the Pooh and Tigger sweatshirt. She loves Pooh Bear and Tigger but refuses to wear it. Why? Good thing it was a larger size – hopefully by next fall she will be willing to wear it.

That reminds me of the purple winter coat my friend bought for my first-born when she was three. I was getting her into her car seat one day, when a spider crawled into the hood of the coat. She screamed until I got the coat off her, and refused to ever wear it again. My friend was not too happy.

Kids need to feel safe, and if they attach fear to an object, I believe the best thing is to remove the object, so that they can again feel secure. After all, they’re just things, right? And after a while, they will see it the same way.

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests know to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Phillippians 4:6-7

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

To Go to School, or Not?

“You’re not lonely today, are you, Mrs. Miller?” asks the school nurse when she calls me today.

No, I’m never lonely, I think, but play along anyway, and laugh, pretending I have a sense of humour.

Lately, I have not had one. It’s been a tough winter, with kids continually out sick with something. Now hit me all at once with all of them sick and me feeling crummy. I try to tell myself it could be worse, they could be in the hospital, we could have the Black Plague, but it doesn’t work. I recognize the cognitive behavioral definition of depression while going through it myself: the cycling of negative thoughts. You know it’s going on but feel helpless to break it. Like a drowning swimmer, you need someone to throw you a lifeline. My online friends do that for me, sending me prayers right when I need it.

None of my kids went to school today. It feels like that was the right decision, when I find out the flu is going around. The kids all received the flu shot this year, but this is a different strain.

My oldest one was out for three days last week, due to a fever. She never fully recovered and now has sinus pain, the reason for her absence today. My littlest one had a fever for three days over the weekend, followed by a constantly running nose that turned into a bloody nose after all the constant wiping. Perhaps my judgment was a little off, due to lack of sleep, when I followed through on my promise to distribute snacks at the school yesterday.

The second grade teacher complained about my son’s coughing, more than hinting that perhaps he shouldn’t return to school the next day. And my fifth grader came home hacking something scary. When I told them they weren’t going to school the next day, they complained. My fifth grader had a science bee she was looking forward to. My second grader just loves school – imagine that!

My seventh grader attempted to reason with them: "If you're sick your immunity is lowered and you are less resistant to catching the stomach virus. And if you get it we all get it. And I REALLY want to see the cousins!!!" We missed seeing them over Christmas break due to a stomach virus, and are looking forward to making up the visit next week.

They continued to insist they wanted to go to school. I said they could if they didn't cough once all night. But my eldest and I secretly plotted to not set the alarms so no one could wake them up on time.

It wound up being a balmy day, and after lunch we were all out in the backyard. Jacketless, I propped myself up on two chairs and picked up on my reading of Les Miserables. They played baseball, after finding a place that was not too muddy. My littlest one hates to get dirty, but she eventually let me put her down on the soggy ground in snow boots.

From our time in the sun, I had a good dose of natural melatonin to boost my mood. The kids can go back to school tomorrow; I’ll cross my fingers so they don’t pick up something else. I finally break my cycle of negative thoughts by repeating to myself, “I’m never alone, never alone, never alone, never alone.”

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Of Children and Peasants – Part XI

Excerpt from “Anna Karenina Comes to America” by Leia Tolstaya*, Millerskaya Ltd., New York, 2009. For earlier installments please click on the keyword phrase “Of Children and Peasants”.

Together, they walked into the dark backyard, straight through the acre-long property until they reached its edge, where there was a large wood. Levin guided them to its center, where he had hidden the time machine.

It was the technological version of a small, antiquated house that had been transformed through the generations by dormers, extensions, and modern conveniences. The time machine had begun as a horse-and-buggy, with a train steam engine added to the front, as well as multiple automobile parts, then a jet rocket added to the back. It had dials ranging from simple to futuristic.

Rather than rebuild, Levin had simply added pieces on from many times and places, borrowing the best of each era. The cab was now encased in the most advanced fire-proof, bullet-proof, bomb-proof clear protective glass. It could run on multiple types of fuel, so that he would never get stuck in a place with no energy to get anywhere. In addition, it had solar panels built in that could harness interplanetary energy while traveling; so that the more traveling he did, the more energy it had stored up.

The buggy have been originally intended to carry his own family, it was able to carry Levina’s entire brood.

“I’m setting it to take us to my farm,” Levin explained as he worked the controls. “That’s the safest place to meet. Kitty is expecting us.”

To be continued…

*Leia Tolstaya is a pen name for Elizabeth K. Miller, and as such her works fall under the same copyright.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Is the Catholic Church Intolerant?

In my lifetime I have heard my fair share of anti-Catholic sentiment, and it wounds me. I will not print any anti-Catholic comments on this blog. To anyone who believes the Catholic Church is intolerant of other religious beliefs, I refer them to the following document:
Religious Freedom, Cornerstone of Human Dignity
Archbishop Giovanni LajoloSecretary for Relations with States
Holy See: Modern Challenges to Religious Freedom
Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
8 December 2004, page 9

Friday, February 6, 2009

When All Else Fails, Play!

For two days, my eleven-year-old lay on the couch, sick with a fever and a cough. On the third, her fever subsided and she was ready to be more active. “Can we play a game today when the baby is sleeping?” she asked.

So we spent an hour playing mancala, pass-out, and Parcheesi. We laughed at the faces we made when we sniffed our noses and tried not to sneeze. As we enjoyed each other’s company, I wondered to myself why I don’t do this more often. When she was my only baby, we spent the entire day entertaining each other. When more came along and they were old enough to play with each other, I tended more to use their playtime as my time to get stuff done. Often, I thought that I had forgotten how to play.

But when I choose to sit down to a game with them, or pitch them balls in the backyard, I realize with relief how easy it is to fall back into childhood mode. Playing a game, all else disappears. I forget about all the stuff I have to get done, my future plans, and worries. I am truly living in the moment.

This morning, my daughter was well enough to return to school, but I had succumbed to the cold. I reached for the last diaper and groaned; I did not want to go to the store. Thankful that I had a reserve of four diapers in the diaper bag, I let my toddler play in her room while I got dressed.

I opened up my hope chest and reached for my oversized, handmade wool sweater, which I had purchased in Poland many years ago. It is well-preserved because I use it only on days when I need that extra comfort.

Then I heard a whirring sound coming from my daughter’s room. I went to her door and saw her playing her feed-the-frog game. She looked at my bare feet. “Stinkies?” she asked me.

“Yes, I need to get my socks on.”

I retrieved some socks and went to join her on the floor.

My husband came home for his lunch and found us there, trying to get plastic flies into the frog’s mouth.

“Is there a lunch?” he asked.

I answered with a sneeze.

He made himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and I returned to our game.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Reading, to Write

I sit by my electric fireplace, reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, with the encouragement of my new hard-core book club. At page 100, at the end of Book II of the section entitled “Fantine”, I calculate with satisfaction: I am one-twelfth through; I can do this! People might wonder why I would impose a 1,260-page novel on myself, when free time is so hard to come by, and a list of incomplete writing projects sits on my computer.

Since I was little, I always had a love for the classics. Maybe it was my dad’s nostalgia over the list of titles he had to read over the summer while attending a private boys’ prep school in Brooklyn. It was he who egged me on until I “had” to read Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, The Old Man by the Sea, and Moby Dick. An athlete in my tenth grade math class used to call me “Book Girl” because I always walked in with my nose in the book Gone with the Wind. (A few times, I even cried.)

One of my English teachers thought he could encourage more kids to love reading if he introduced more modern titles, such as Paul Zindell’s The Pig Man. I soon found that I had no interest in anything written in my current century. I would rather be lost in a different time and place, where people wore beautiful clothing and spoke with “thee’s” and “thou’s”.

I loved the complexity of traditional classic literature. Give me a long, descriptive paragraph from any of Jane Austen’s works that defies diagraphing: full of colons, semi-colons, commas, and parentheses. I love it when I have to go back and re-read a sentence to dissect the treasures buried within. Or, as in my reading of Victor Hugo’s Ninety-Three, when I have to sit with a huge dictionary by my side, looking up words of French origin that are no longer in use.

I read to challenge my mind, not to pass the time. I read to write like the greats, not to be a best-seller. I read to learn about another time, that I might better understand my own. I read to inspire, by example, my children to read. I read because that’s what you’re supposed to do when seated by an electric fireplace, while the children play in the snow.

This post was also published on the blog for Mom Writer’s Literary Magazine.

People who enjoy reading great novels and want to take literature classes may look into online education classes.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Poem for my Firstborn (1997)

Unblinking brilliant blues
Sparkle with joy
And green, lively hues.
Happy, friendly, never coy,
Your arms outstretched
And ready for play.
This picture of you is etched
In my mind night and day.
You stretch your strong legs,
Clenching your little fists.
You laugh as the puppy begs,
And giggle as she finally sits.
You look for your adoring Dad,
And smile when he comes near.
You seem never to be sad,
My sweet little baby dear.

Elizabeth Kathryn Miller, 1997

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Irrational Fears: The Bugasy

I was changing my toddler, when what appeared to be a bug came flying over the changing table and landed on her chest.

“Aaah! A bug!” I cried.

My daughter flinched and screamed as well. I swatted at it, caught it, and realized it was a hairball, which had clung to Night Night the White Blankie.

My living room carpet gets vacuumed almost daily. Not only does she get cereal all over it on a regular basis. If there is anything resembling a bug, she will point it out and refuse to move until I have picked it up, identified it, and properly disposed of it.

Someone gave my kids this interesting little flashlight-light device. It projects a “galaxy” onto any surface you point it at. If the surface is far away, such as a ceiling, the galaxy is large. If it is close, it is miniscule.

The kids were fooling around with it and decided to point it at the baby’s stomach.

“Aaah! A bug!” she cried, clutching her stomach.

“It’s not a bug,” we explained, “It’s a galaxy.”

“A bugasy! No bugasy!”

I took away the toy, but she continued to hold her stomach throughout dinner, chanting, “No bug. No bugasy.”

This episode made me flash back to when my eldest was her age. She was afraid of animated dolls. Children at this stage of development are working hard at making sense of their world. My little one knew foreign objects didn’t belong on her stomach; my eldest knew that nonliving things should not roller skate or talk. Our job is to reconcile these inconsistencies with the scientific rules they have figured out on their own, so they can be at peace with the world and themselves.

The Bugasy Episode went on for a week, the kids occasionally teasing her with the galaxy light just to get a reaction from her.

The following week would be a new thing – but I’ll save that for another post.

Picture above: Bear has no fears as she makes herself at home in front of our new Amish electric fireplace.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Poem in MWLM Blog

I am now a regular contributor to Mom Writers Literary Magazine Blog. Read my poem "Ten Months" here.

Of Children and Peasants – Part X

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Excerpt from “Anna Karenina Comes to America” by Leia Tolstaya*, Millerskaya Ltd., New York, 2009. For earlier installments please click on the keyword phrase “Of Children and Peasants”.

William, Levina, and the children sat in the living room, wearing costumes appropriate to the last quarter of the nineteenth century in Russia.

“I feel ridiculous,” said William, squirming in his tight pants. His attire was borrowed from Levin. Although both men were similar in height and build, and William was proud of his regular workouts, Levin’s body had been tightly honed from the long days of hard labor on his farm. Pants that were meant to be tight-fitting were stifling on William.

“I don’t think you were meant for the ballet,” joked Levina. She wore one of Kitty’s modest dresses. It was lemon-yellow with white lace around the bodice, which was cut a little on the high side at Kitty’s request. Because Kitty loved to go for long walks in the country, it was hemmed at the ankles rather than floor-length. Katrina helped her to button up the small, dainty buttons, which ran all the way up her back. Although this was meant to be an every-day dress for Kitty, Levina felt like she was ready to go to a formal dinner. Her look was completed by a French twist up-do.

The children all wore white peasant blouses, with brown skirts or trousers, black leggings, and brown shoes. These had all been borrowed from Levin’s own children.

“We should take one of those pictures, that people take in studios to make themselves look old-fashioned,” suggested Levina.

In breezed Levin, through the front door this time. He had been busy preparing Anna’s house, which he had purchased while it was under foreclosure.

He never changed outfits when he went time-traveling. In their house, he passed as an eccentric, youngish grandfather, to those who dropped in unexpectedly while he was visiting. Although Levina’s great-great-great-grandfather still looked too young to be her grandfather, the kids would still have to call him grandfather, and so that is how he was introduced to outsiders.

Always straight to the point, he nodded approvingly at their attire and announced, “Everything’s ready for Anna Tolstaya. You’ll have to show her the ropes of the modern household, computer skills included, Levina, like a good sister-in-law.”

“Sister-in-law?” This was a real far fetch for an unrelated woman they were going to rescue from the 1880’s in Russia.

“Your being related would explain to the neighbors why you are being so, well – neighborly. And we couldn’t very well let her keep the name Karenina. Even though her story will change, we don’t know how shocking it will be to her world when she suddenly disappears. She could become infamous for other reasons yet unknown to us.”

To be continued…

*Leia Tolstaya is a pen name for Elizabeth K. Miller, and as such her works fall under the same copyright.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Elizabeth’s Healthy but Yummy Snacks for Kids

Each of these recipes are designed to be a healthful snack, with no salt or sugar, and very easy to prepare. The first two require no cooking and the third utilizes a microwave. The dishes have been approved by several children that play and snack in my home.

Banana Milk Shakes for Two (Makes 2 cups.)

Blend together until smooth:

1 small banana
1 cup skim milk
1/2 tsp. almond extract
4 ice cubes

Honey Bee Applesauce
(Makes 6 cups.)

Wash and peel 3 large apples. Remove cores and seeds.
Slice as thinly as possible.

Blend together until smooth:

3 large apples, prepared as stated above
1 qt. cold water
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup honey

Hot Cinnamon Apples
(Makes 2 cups, requires microwave)

Wash and peel 4 small apples. Remove cores and seeds.
Slice into quarters.

Combine in microwavable dish:

1/3 cup water
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp. cinnamon
1.4 tsp. allspice

Pour over apples. Cover with waxed paper.
Microwave on high power for five minutes.