Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Menu Planning for After-School Sports

Baseball/softball season starts April 1, and with it comes a very rigid and simplified dinner schedule. I am fortunate to be home during the day, so if I am making a new dinner I start preparing it between 2:00 and 3:00. The kids get home at 3:00 and have to do their homework right away and then get dressed for the ball field. During the rest of the year, I make them go outside right away and do their homework later. But now they will have a few hours of fresh air and exercise to look forward to after dinner.

We eat at 4:00. My husband’s dish gets wrapped up for later. Those who are done with their homework can practice the piano in shifts. Practices and games are always at 6:00, but we have to be there at 5:30, and there usually is no bathroom available – which means we have to have thoroughly digested everything by 5:00!

Today I did my food shopping and planned out the rest of the week’s meals in my head. I got several packages of chicken legs, and will make as many today as I can fit in my oven! That means we can have leftovers on Wed. I also got a family pack of sausages, which are an easy entrée to make for Thurs., leaving enough leftovers for Sat. For Friday I got flounder fillets for the kids and stuffed flounder for me and Kevin.

We generally don’t get home until after 8:00, which during the rest of the year is the children’s official bedtime. They have a quick dessert and make the next day’s lunches while everyone takes turns in the showers – luckily I have two of those. I have everyone in bed by 9:00.

Even though there might be housework, such as a dirty floor and laundry, to do after 9:00, I leave it until the morning. Otherwise I will get all revved up and be unable to sleep. Evening hours are mine for writing, reading, and watching television with my husband.

Other self-imposed rules that keep me sane during this season:
* Big school projects MUST be completed on the weekend – I have no patience for last-minute rushes to meet deadlines.
* Social commitments are kept to a minimum.
* I try to get all errands done in the morning so the baby can get a good nap in.
* Sunday is an absolute day of rest and relaxation. After Church, the only plans we make are with extended family for afternoon dinners.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Red Envelope Campaign

The idea behind the Red Envelope Campaign is to bombard the White House with red envelopes, symbolizing the blood of innocents that has been shed by abortion. The ideal send date is March 31 or ASAP. If people send the envelopes from all over the US this week, the White House will receive them during Passover and Holy Week. Click here for the address and instructions:

A Garden of Their Own

I have had no luck with growing vegetables since I became a homeowner. Believing the soil in my yard may be at fault, I decided to build some raised garden beds, filled with fresh soil.

I used scrap 2 x 4’s with 3-inch decking screws. I pre-drilled first, and then screwed them in by hand; I have a blister on my thumb to prove it! Since I already had pieces cut, I didn’t need to purchase or cut any lumber. You can make a rectangular bed with only one cut, if you purchase three 2 x 4’s and cut one in half. Most home improvement centers will make free cuts for you.

Beds can be as long as you wish but should not be more than 4 feet wide; most people can easily reach 2 feet from the side to work on their garden. Make sure to measure your lawn mower and make sure there is enough space between the beds for it to get through.

The kids dug dirt from the mulch pile and pulled it in their wagon to the beds, which they filled halfway. We added one cubic yard of organic soil and one cubic yard of regular top soil. The only materials I purchased for this project were the packaged soils and a box of screws, for a total under $10, even including the seeds we would plant.

The kids each have their own square, which is approximately 2 feet by 2 feet. They each receive a packet of seeds that can be planted in early spring in our northeastern region: spinach, cucumbers, carrots, and broccoli. I told them to spread them out evenly in their box and plant them the depth indicated on the packet.

I will be building more larger beds later in the season for all of the seeds that must be planted after the last frost, which for us is in late May. We were anxious to get started with Spring though, and this was a great beginning.

There are nice instructions for this project in the current issue of Better Homes and Gardens. I didn’t copy this idea from them, though, as we had a beautiful raised bed garden that my Dad constructed similarly when I was growing up.

Friday, March 27, 2009

First Reconciliation

We are starting to get excited about my son’s upcoming First Communion. He knows all his prayers by heart and is ready to make his First Reconciliation. The girls will be making their annual Lenten Confession at the same time.

In our parish we have a public confession for families. Three priests sit on the altar. The entire body of parishioners has a brief prayer service, followed by the invitation to come onto the altar for confession. Parishioners line up and go to whichever priest is available at the moment. Confession is made quietly and is only “public” in that it is made out in the open in front of the parish. Children who are making theirs for the first time fill out a card and hand it to the priest so that the date of their First Reconciliation can be recorded by the Church.

My children are always nervous when it is time to go. They have trouble coming up with their list of sins, and worry about what the priest will think of them. They think they will stumble somewhere in their recital of the Act of Contrition.

But they always come down off the altar with bright smiles on their faces. The priest is always so understanding, and they feel so good getting the guilt of their sins off their little hearts and minds.

Last night at dinner, the children were talking about what sins they might confess. They were each full of suggestions about what sins each of the others should confess!

Then they asked me if I would be going up with them. “I don’t know,” I answered.

“Well you don’t have any sins, do you?”

“Everyone has sins,” I said.

“What kind of sins could you possibly have?” This question coming from my eleven-year-old, it truly warmed my heart. Of all my children, and at the age at which criticism of all family members comes naturally, she should know the best that I am not perfect. That she should still view me as largely inculpable was humbling.

“Well, that’s between me and God, same as for you.”

Thus ended the plucking of logs from each of the other’s eyes, and the soul-searching began.

Painting Above: Christ Cleansing the Temple, Berdardino Mei, 1650, Getty Museum.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Easter Bunny Quiz

Your Chocolate Easter Bunny Personality

You are friendly, optimistic, and kind hearted.

You don't have a harsh word for anyone.

You cheerfully live your life with little complaining or suffering.

You are creative and artistic. You live in your own inner world.

You live your life freely, without guilt or restrictions.

And you would never feel bad about eating too much chocolate!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Childhood Friends

I’ll never forget the day “Becky” told me I was her tenth best friend. She was so smelly and bossy; but we were friends out of habit. She was expecting another friend to come over later that day, and told me that the other girl was her first best friend, but that I was a close second. Then she amended her first statement. “No, wait, that would be Katie, and then Carly, and then…” until she declared me as number ten in importance. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was too hurt to respond.

We went outside and began playing hide-and-seek outside. Her new bike was standing in the driveway. When it was my turn to hide, I knocked down her bike, got on my own, and pedaled away. She continued to look for me.

Her mother called my house, crying, a half-hour later. “We can’t find Lisa!” she said. (That was my childhood nickname, a little-known derivative of the alternative spelling Elisabeth.)

“She’s right here,” my mother said, perplexed. She looked over at me. I looked like the cat who had eaten the canary.

She hung up and got from me the full story. Out poured all my feelings as to how I had been repeatedly abused emotionally by Becky. Other telephone calls would be received from Becky’s family in the upcoming weeks. My behavior had been shocking, after I had seemed such a meek and quiet one for so long. Her mother wanted to “work it out”. My mother said, “I think my daughter has made up her mind.”

I was willing to forgive, but not forget. Her past behavior was indicative of a character I was no longer willing to associate with. I knew I deserved better. And I would much rather spend my afternoons alone than in her company.

As I watch our children make and break friendships, I am careful not to tell them with whom they should or should not associate. This is easy to do now, as they are presently attending a Catholic school where all the kids come from fairly good homes. We do often sit and talk about their friends, analyzing their virtues and faults, as I gently try to steer them towards hanging out with the ones who display more of the first than the second. For the most part I have been pleased with their choices.

The hard part is watching their little hearts get broken when someone speaks cruelly to them. “And I thought she was my friend!” Then come all the platitudes about how someone who could treat them poorly was never a true friend to begin with, and isn’t worth all the heartache, but I know it doesn’t take the pain away. We are helpless to take it away, nor should we. It is one of the arenas in which all we can do is listen.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Elizabeth's Turkey Stir Fry

This is a great dinner for those nights when I forgot to defrost the meat. I can still have dinner on the table within twenty minutes, from start to finish!

Sautee onions and garlic in olive oil.

Add one pound of ground turkey. This works even if it is not completely defrosted!

Keep flipping over the turkey, shaving off the cooked parts with a spatula until the entire pound is completely cooked to a light brown color.

In the meantime, cook pasta and spinach together. Add frozen spinach at the same time as the pasta; add fresh spinach after the pasta starts to simmer. Keep lid on for the steam to help cook the spinach.

Serve stir fried turkey over the pasta and spinach. If you toss the drippings from the turkey into the pasta, you will not need to add olive oil to the pasta.

Another night, I made this with the addition of mushrooms. The mushrooms would be added towards the beginning, around the circumference of the meat.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Elizabeth’s Turkey Meatloaf

In an effort to create more meals containing lean protein, I have been trying to come up with more dishes containing ground turkey. I have found that I can easily use this as a substitute for ground beef. This weekend I tried a meatloaf containing 2 pounds of ground turkey, one egg, salt,pepper, and Italian bread crumbs. Although my husband at first complained, “Where’s the beef?” and my children comment on the unusually light color of the dish, everyone did enjoy the entrée.

Premio Dardos!

Leticia Velasquez of Cause of Our Joy has given me the Premio Dardos Award.

Premio Dardos means ‘prize darts’ in Italian and it is given for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing.

The rules are:
1) Accept the award by posting it on your blog along with the name of the person who has granted the award and a link to his/her blog.
2) Pass the award to another 7 bloggers that are worthy of this acknowledgement, remembering to contact each of them to let them know.

I hereby pass this distinguished award to the following outstanding Catholic bloggers for their literary flair while sharing the treasure of our Catholic faith and culture.

1. Loren Christie at Dude Where Am I?

2. Bonnie Way at Koala Bear Writer

3. Ebeth at A Catholic Mom Climbing the Pillars

4. Literary Chic at Words, Words

5. Jennifer F. at Conversion Diary

6. Pat Gohn at Write in Between

7. Lisa at Unexpected Journey

Friday, March 20, 2009

Easton Press: The 100 Greatest Books Ever Written

In search of a better list than that included in my BBC Meme, I went looking to see if Easton Press was still publishing its beautiful series of The 100 Greatest Books Ever Written. I was receiving these gorgeous volumes once a month before I was married and then stopped them coming to keep the bills at a minimum. I have 20 of them. Once I have a real writing contract, I will reward myself by completing the set!

If you like this list, copy the list onto your blog or facebook page, indicating the books you have read with an (X). Your total score is equal to the number of books you have read on the list.

Easton Press: The 100 Greatest Books Ever Written

1. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne
2. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (X)
3. Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
4. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
5. Gulliver's Travels by Johnathan Swift (X)
6. Moby Dick, or The Whale by Herman Melville (X)
7. A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway
8. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
9. The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling (X)
10. The Odyssey by Homer (X)
11. The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan (X)
12. A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man by James Joyce (X)
13. Paradise Lost by John Milton (X)
14. Tales From The Arabian Nights by Richard Burton (X)
15. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (X)
16. Candide by Voltaire
17. Oedipus The King by Sophocles (X)
18. The Hunchback Of Notre Dame [Notre-Dame De Paris] by Victor Hugo
19. The Last Of The Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
20. The Sea Wolf by Jack London
21. Cyrano De Bergerac by Edmund Rostand
22. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (X)
23. Collected Poems by Robert Browning
24. The Essays Of Ralph Waldo Emerson by Ralph Waldo Emerson
25. The Portrait Of A Lady by Henry James
26. Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (X)
27. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (X)
28. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (X)
29. Collected Poems by John Keats
30. On The Origin Of Species by Charles Darwin
31. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
32. Collected Poems by Robert Frost
33. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories by Washington Irving
34. Animal Farm by George Orwell (X)
35. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (X)
36. She Stoops To Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith
37. Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck
38. Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen (X)
39. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (X)
40. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (X)
41. The Iliad by Homer (X)
42. Lady Chatterly's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
43. The Count Of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
44. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
45. Aesop's Fables by Aesop (X)
46. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
47. The Autobiography Of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin (X)
48. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
49. Politics And The Poetics by Aristotle
50. The Aeneid by Virgil
51. Madam Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
52. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
53. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (X)
54. Hamlet by William Shakespeare (X)
55. Pygmalion And Candida by George Bernard Shaw
56. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (X)
57. Romeo And Juliet by William Shakespeare (X)
58. The Cherry Orchard And The Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov
59. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (X)
60. The Analects of Confucius by Confucius
61. A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare (X)
62. Collected Poems by William Butler Yeats
63. The Picture Of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
64. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (X)
65. The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
66. Beowulf
67. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (X)
68. The Necklace And Other Tales by Guy de Maupassant
69. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (X)
70. Fathers And Sons by Ivan Turgenev
71. Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (X)
72. War And Peace by Leo Tolstoy (X)
73. The History of Early Rome by Livy
74. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (X)
75. The Talisman by Sir Walter Scott
76. Tess Of The D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (X)
77. Alice's Adventure In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (X)
78. Dracula by Bram Stoker
79. The Rubáiyát Of Omar Khayyám by Omar Khayyám
80. The Red And The Black by Stendhal
81. A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (X)
82. The Republic by Plato (X)
83. Collected Poems by Emily Dickinson
84. Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
85. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
86. The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay (X)
87. Silas Marner by George Eliot
88. The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine
89. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
90. Billy Budd by Herman Melville
91. The Confessions by St. Augustine
92. Tales of Mystery And Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe
93. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
94. The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler
95. The Sound And The Fury by William Faulkner
96. Crime And Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (X)
97. Grimm's Fairy Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (X)
98. Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (X)
99. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
100. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (X)

(My score = 44)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey “Zing Zang Zoom” Circus

My arms are still aching from carrying my toddler through the circus last night, but it was well worth the trouble! As a “Mom Central” promoter for the show, I and my family received free tickets and backstage passes. We also wound up getting free parking to Nassau Coliseum, as we were there well before the regular show time.

At 5:30 we were ushered into the basement of the coliseum, where all the animals were kept. We were up close with elephants, Arabian horses, miniature horses, zebras, tigers, and elephants.

I remarked that the elephants were in an area tied off only with rope, which served only as a visual deterrent to both animal and guest, whereas the zebras were in a locked paddock, and the tigers behind several layers of steel. All animals seemed content. The smell was tolerable.

The zebras caressed each other playfully.

The elephants played in the wood chips, playfully throwing it onto their backs.

We then received a personal interview with Mr. Alex the Zingmaster (so called because he was to perform several “magic” tricks throughout the show) and his nemesis, Mr. Gravity. I thought it was a clever concept to have Mr. Gravity as the enemy clown throughout the show. Mr. Alex pulled out a coin from behind my son’s ear. I don’t know how it got there.

Finally, we went down to the actual floor of the show, for the public pre-show. All ticket holders were permitted to mix with the cast of the show. Several performances were viewed up close. My 11-year-old daughter was assisted in balancing a table on her feet; you can see the back of her legs in the pictures.

We were seated halfway up, far to the right of the stage. Half the stadium was walled off, so that the entire room was a half-oval. I am guessing that, if I could see from where I was, every seat had a pretty good view.

My toddler jumped up and down throughout the show, shouting, “Hurray, ephants!…Yay orsies!…Doggies!…Lions!” No, there were no lions in this show, but she can’t differentiate between them and tigers.

My ten-year-old daughter, a great elephant lover, was completely satisfied with the trick of a dozen Asian elephants standing on each other’s backs. In an educational video I received about Barnum and Bailey’s Elephant Conservatory Park in Central Florida, I learned that this and others tricks performed by elephants are based on the natural play that they perform in the wild.

I really loved what I called “air dancing”, couples who performed on a rope high in the air, doing moves similar to what pairs figure skaters do on ice.

In all, the pre-show lasted for about an hour. The actual show went from 7:30 to approximately 10:00. I normally like to have the kids in bed by 8:00, but this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was a great night, and well worth the trip!

Special Offer:
Purchase a 4-pack of tickets to a show in your area for $44 by logging onto www.ticketmaster.com and entering the coupon code: MOM. Additional tickets can be purchased at $11 each.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My Son, The Ringbearer

My Dad called for my son’s eighth birthday. “I have his picture next to my bed,” he said. Every time I look at him, I think about him at Joanna’s wedding. I remember how he cried about the bubbles. That was great.”

“You know he wasn’t really crying about the bubbles, right Dad? He was just overwhelmed at everything at the moment.”

Really I think he was crying in reaction to seeing his grandfather in a wheelchair, but I didn’t say so.

I didn’t write much upon my return from the wedding because there was such a whirlwind of many mini-stories playing over in my mind. My Dad’s statement reminded me of one small part of the wedding worth dwelling on, if only because it will probably be one of those moments that are frozen into my son’s mind forever.

Going to a wedding is a far different experience than being in one. All the family dynamics come to play at a crescendo, for better or for worse (usually both). The adults are all caught up in their own personal dramas. I think we sometimes forget how it all must seem to a child.

In our case, we were traveling from New York to Tennessee and meeting the groom’s family for the first time at the wedding rehearsal. We arrived at 2:00 in the morning, the day of the rehearsal dinner. The children got their energies out at the pool, getting sunburned in the process, before the big pre-nuptial event. They did great, carrying out their instructions, and were made to feel welcome by all.

When my son came up the aisle, I replayed the memory, side by side with the present, of my little brother, at the age of 4, coming up the aisle with the ring for my own wedding. We had sewn the ring into the pillow so it wouldn’t get lost. When the best man tried to take it off, he had a nervous moment trying to get it detached!

Then my little sister came up the aisle, preceded by my two older daughters, and again I had a flashback to my own wedding, when she, at the age of 8, sweetly walked up the aisle in a lavender dress with a small bouquet. Not on purpose, I too was wearing a lavender dress at her rehearsal, and all these memories flooded back to me as she walked up the aisle. I couldn’t stop the tears from trickling down my face. When we were all together at the altar, the minister looked at my red nose and said, “I just love sisters.”

The next day was the wedding. We were all up early. The children showered and dressed, and we ladies and the children all traveled together, while my husband cared for our toddler. When we arrived, a hostess was ready to take my son over to the house where the groomsmen were getting ready. I insisted that I would take him myself. The poor little guy was in the company of a great many big guys. Fortunately, he knew both the groom and my brother. I gave my brother the charge of him and ran off to join the ladies.

Right before the wedding, my Dad came into the church, in his wheelchair. His health had been worrisome as of late, as he suffers from multiple sclerosis, and none of us were sure if he would be able to make it. I hadn’t seen him in five years. He was very thin and frail. I had tried to prepare my children for his appearance, but even I am never quite able to deal with the change that time brings upon him in my absence.

My sister came into the entryway and cried a little at seeing him. She was really happy that he had been able to make it.

The wedding went smoothly, beautifully, almost surreally (for me) and I was able to keep myself in control emotionally. The kids did a terrific job preparing the way for the beautiful bride.

At the end, we all came outside and waited for the couple to come out. Bridesmaids handed out bubbles to be blown for the pictures. The couple entered their vehicle and did a fake exit, driving around to the rear of the church for more pictures to be taken inside. I found my children and discovered that my son was quite upset. “I didn’t get any bubbles!” he said, his lower lip trembling.

“How could this have happened!” I exclaimed.

A bridesmaid came up to me, prodding me to come inside for the pictures. “I’ll be in in a minute, I said,” grabbing some bubbles from the basket that dangled from her arm.

Then my Dad rolled up to us. “This is your Grandpa,” I said to my son. And he burst into tears.

“What’s wrong?” asked my Dad.

“He didn’t get any bubbles,” I tried to explain.

I received another reminder that they were waiting for us inside. I’m afraid I might have glared at the messenger. Here was a moment that my son might never forget, and I wasn’t going to rush through it until he was okay with everything.

My husband found us, and brought me my toddler, who also was very upset at having been separated from her mama. Her comparative outrage did some good in settling my son. Finally, we all went inside, and all went fairly smoothly from there.

It may seem puzzling why this might be a positive memory for my Dad. On a happy day, why would one want to remember the tears that occurred for ten minutes of it?

“He was just being a boy,” says my Dad.

And I think that’s it. Boys keep it real. If they are in a mood, they pout. If they are happy, they smile from ear to ear. You never see a little boy with a fake smile on his face, and they are usually not able to stifle their giggles.

In the middle of a smiling crowd, where some adults might be smiling to hide personal sadness, or to be polite and sociable, he was able to express his true emotion. Later, he would be running around by the lake, laughing and dancing. Whatever his actions, they were true.

So when my Dad sees his school picture sitting on his side table, with the same smile that my little brother has always had, he can see it all: the tears, the laughter, the genuine boy-ness. That still shot, combined with the living memories, will sustain him until our next visit.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pre-1985 Book Banning?

It's not bad enough that many of the classics I love by George MacDonald are no longer in print. Now books printed before 1985 are in danger of being banned! Read about it here.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Monday, March 16, 2009

My Son's Eighth Birthday Party

Around Christmas, I posted about the “gingerbread houses” we made for my daughter’s tenth birthday.

That went so well that I decided to do it again for my son’s eighth birthday.

The party program:

2:00 arrive

2:05 start building Boboli pizzas

2:10 blow bubbles outside with Mr. Miller (it was a pleasant 52 degrees) while Mrs. Miller cooks the pizzas

2:30 pizza time

2:45 build Easter bunny houses (composed of graham crackers, royal icing, and lots of Easter candy)

My 8-year-old son's:

My 10-year-old daughter's:

My 11 1/2-year old daughter's:

3:00 build birthday cupcakes

3:15 eat cupcakes

3:25 open presents

3:30 whiffleball outside with Mr. Miller

4:00 good-bye

We only had two boys as party guests, but add that to my four and there are enough kids to have a good time. I was exhausted at the end of the day, and could not believe the quantity of candy consumed! For our dinner, we reheated the leftover pizza and then had another cake. My son was very happy.

Friday, March 13, 2009

You Can Call Me Elinor

I am Elinor Dashwood!

Take the Quiz here!

My results read: "You are Elinor Dashwood of Sense & Sensibility! You are practical, circumspect, and discreet. Though you are tremendously sensible and allow your head to rule, you have a deep, emotional side that few people often see."

I thought for sure I, like Loren Christie, would be Elizabeth Bennett, my favorite Austen character. But I think all the characters are expressions of parts of Austen's complicated and intelligent mind and, so, they are all good. Elinor probably does describe me the best, and I did agree with her thinking throughout the novel, more than her sister's. I did feel more drawn to Elizabeth's character in Pride and Prejudice because she was headstrong and outspoken, sometimes putting her foot in her mouth. This can be me sometimes, when I feel strongly about something, and usually when I am more comfortable with the company I am keeping. But if I don't feel I'm in my element, I am usually much more quiet and think before speaking.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The BBC Reading Meme

The BBC believes most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here. How do your reading habits stack up?

If you like this meme, consider yourself tagged. Put an x beside the books you've read. Apparently the BBC thinks most folks have only read six. I can’t say I really like this list, but it is interesting.


Here's my list:

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (X)
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien (X)
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte (x)
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling (actually seven books)
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (X)
6 The Bible (X)
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte (X)
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell (X)
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens (X)
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott (X)
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy (X)
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien (X)
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger (X)
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell (X)
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald (X)
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens (x)
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy (X)
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams (X)
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky (X)
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll (X)
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame (X)
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy (X)
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens (x)
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis (X)
34 Emma - Jane Austen (X)
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen (x)
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis (X)(This is the first of the Chronicles of Narnia, all seven of which I have read, several times each!)
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne (X)
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell (X)
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown (X)
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery (x) All Eight plus the Emily Series and others
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding (X)
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen (x )
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zifon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens (X)
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov (x)
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville (X)
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens (X)
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett (X)
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce (X)
76 The Inferno - Dante (X)
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray (x)
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens (X)
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker (X)
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White (X)
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (X)
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad (X)
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare (X)(why is this separate from the complete works?)
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl (X)
100 Les Miserables (x)

My score = 48

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Things I Found in the Couch Today

1 baby doll shoe
2 ceramic polar bear tea cups
3 Sweet Street dolls
4 Nutcracker Advent mini-books (obviously there since Christmas)
5 pens (one had burst)
6 pencils (mostly broken)
7 buttons
8 animal crackers
9 Kix cereal pieces
10 Chex cereal pieces
100 Cheerios

Mind you, these were not underneath the cushions or in the crevices. These were actually IN my couch. I went to try out my new mini-vacuum and, upon lifting the cushions, discovered a huge, gaping hole in the fabric of the couch seat. I looked into the abyss and found all these treasures lurking down there. (My mom probably doesn’t know if she should cringe or laugh at this.) Not one to stick my hand into mysterious dark holes, I fetched a long serving spoon from the kitchen and scooped out whatever looked like it was worth keeping. My toddler watched this process, recognizing things that had gone missing in the past few months, most notably the first four things on this list.

Then I stuck the vacuum wand in there and cleaned out the insides of the couch.

I took my toddler up for her nap. “Mommy is going to fix the big scary hole,” I promised her. “Scary hole, fix it,” she repeated.

Finally, I sewed up the hole and covered it up with the cushions, which I flipped over.

One of the countless invisible jobs of motherhood.

If you enjoyed this post, please read “Things We Found in the Freezer”.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal.”
Matthew 6:19

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Ink on the Calendar

I grant myself two slow months in the year to catch my breath. During January and February, I was able to read two lengthy novels: Anna Karenina and Les Miserables. I was also able to write every day. In the coming months there will be days when I cannot even switch the computer on.

While friends suggest I purchase a laptop to write on the baseball field, I would rather not do that. I want to fully participate in the action of being present there. I see moms spending the whole game on the cell phone and wonder how their children must feel, that she is physically there but mentally absent?

Just when this slower schedule was starting to get boring, and I thought I might run out of things to write about, I wiped February off the dry-erase calendar and started putting up the schedule for March. My dry-erase marker quickly ran dry. I realized with dismay that my mini-break was over. Science fair projects for three kids (all due the same week), baseball games, softball games, practices, birthdays, and my son’s First Communion are all in my near future.

I both look forward to, and dread, the receipt of the game calendars for the spring season. This year the three children will be in different leagues, playing on different fields at the same time. When games fall on the same day, I sometimes feel like I am going to have a heart attack getting everyone where they have to be, hoping my husband can get to the second field on time before the game ends, leaving other parents to believe I’m the “absent parent” as I drop and run. And run and drop.

Just when I will have lots to write about, I won’t have the time! Now all of these are good things – I just wish they could be spread out a little more throughout the year.

And so, while the household chores pile up, I am allowing myself this half hour to write before the children get home from school. The dirt isn’t going anywhere, but ideas don’t sit in your head forever, and kids grow up even faster when you’re busy.

“In all wisdom and insight,
He has made known to us the mystery of his will
in accord with his favor that he set forth in him
As a plan for the fullness of times,
to sum up all things in Christ,
in heaven and on earth.”
Ephesians 1:8b-10

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Holy Eucharist: A Guest Post by Miss A. Miller

Catholics are able to serve God and others when they receive the Eucharist. They also love, understand, and appreciate Jesus more when they receive the Eucharist. The venial sins that all people make are forgiven and we are strengthened so that we can resist mortal sin. It helps us to grow closer to God and Jesus.

The Eucharist is important to me because, when I was younger, I thought that Church was boring and I didn’t understand anything. Now, after I have received my First Communion, I am able to understand wheat is happening and it is not boring any longer.

The Eucharist helps me to grow closer to God and Jesus. I am also better able to serve others as well as love them. My venial sins are forgiven and I am strengthened to resist any mortal sins. The Eucharist has helped me to become a better person and has helped me to grow in faith.

By Miss A. Miller, age 11, in answer to an essay question in her 7th grade Religion class.

"You can be sure that whoever gives even a drink of cold water to one of the least of these my followers because he is my follower, will be certainly receive a reward." (Matt. 10:42)

Picture above: "A cup of cold water" by Li Wei San, China

Friday, March 6, 2009

Come Join My Lenten Forum!

How do you feel about Lent? Do you feel weak or discouraged? Do you feel like you have been accomplishing your spiritual goals? Do you feel hungry? Have you read The Holy Father's statement for this Lenten season? Have you incorporated fasting, prayer, and almsgiving into your goals? What do your kids do for Lent? Anything else relating to Lent?
Put your two cents in here!

Fish: It’s What’s for Dinner, and Lunch, and Breakfast

Some may find fault with this, but I find I look forward to Lent, if only for the culinary delights. I love fish; my husband just tolerates it.

This Friday morning I made him a tuna sandwich. I made one can, which makes two sandwiches for us. Rather than have to wrap up the second one, I ate it for breakfast.

The kids being home early from a half-day at school, we had fish sticks for lunch.

For dinner there were flounder and salmon, over a bed of my metabolic rice garnished with fresh steamed broccoli. The kids and I love salmon, but my husband really hates it. So I make both. Everyone is happy, and eating healthy.

Here is my husband’s plate.

Here is my plate.

Here is my son’s plate.

Elizabeth’s method for cooking all sorts of fish:
Coat a glass baking dish with olive oil.
Coat both sides of the fish with olive oil.
Place skin-side down in the dish.
Sprinkle with seafood seasoning, usually a combination of salt and sweet paprika.
Seal dish with aluminum foil.
Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes.
Fish should be flaky through the middle when it is done.

Elizabeth’s Metabolic Rice (so named because it is filled with all sorts of ingredients which raise your metabolic heat, therefore burning more calories):
Place rice and water in pot at a ratio of one cup rice to two cups water.
Pour in kosher salt, pepper, and hot paprika, as desired.
Slice onions and place on top.
Bring to a simmer.
Cover and lower heat.
Simmer for 15 minutes.

Elizabeth’s Steamed Vegetables:
Place in glass casserole.
Drizzle with olive oil.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Microwave for approximately seven minutes.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Of Children and Peasants – Part XIII

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”.

Levin had used the capabilities of time travel for the benefit of all he was close to. His brother had been restored to health, with the medicinal knowledge he had gathered in his many journeys. Once he realized how much time he had wasted in gathering courage to ask for Kitty’s hand in marriage, he had gone back and done that much, much earlier. Therefore they had been married before Anna and Karenin had even conceived their first child.

Anna and Karenin sat in Kitty’s parlour. Kitty was tending to one of the children.

“I love you so much that I am willing to let you go,” Karenin said to Anna.

“I love you too. I didn’t realize you cared that much. You are always so involved in your work.”

“And I didn’t think you were interested in spending that much time with me. Maybe that’s why I get so wrapped up in my work. But I would give that up, if you wanted me to go with you.”

“Really? You would give up your position, everything, for me?”

“You are everything to me, Anna. Without you, it would all be meaningless. But if you don’t want me, if you married me just because your family pressured you, then I would give you an annulment and let you go.”

In the barn, Levin raised the glass roof off the time machine. Slowly, like coming out of a dream, everyone unbuckled their seatbelts and climbed out of the cab.

They traipsed into the house. They first saw Kitty, looking pretty in her modest, pale blue dress. She had a dainty little figure, toned from the manual work was often did on the farm, voluntarily. Her hair was slightly disheveled from tussling with the kids. Her cheeks were rosy from the long hours she spent outdoors. Her eyes shone like stars. Then they saw Anna.

Once you looked at Anna, you couldn’t take your eyes off of her. Her dark red lips, pale cheeks, and deep brown eyes were captivating. Her black curly hair was done up in the modern fashion of the city, set off by the simple pearl earrings and necklace. Every inch of her was styled to perfection. Her dress was a stark, dark blue, evidently tailored by the best seamstress that could be bought. She held herself as if posing for a picture.

She held Karenin’s hand and boldly announced, “We are both coming with you.”

To be continued…

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

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Of Children and Peasants – Part XII

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”.

“Since we have young ones aboard, I’m going to set the time machine at its gentlest entry speed,” Levin announced.

They were all secured by seatbelts in the spacious cab. The space glass protective shield was lowered and sealed. Levin set the coordinates for his farm. The time was set for 10:01 PM, April 1, 1875.

The children and peasants would be sleeping. Kitty would be up waiting for them, accompanied by Anna and Karenin, who had been persuaded of the truth by various documents written by himself in the future. The marriage was still young and intact; there was no child. Anna had not yet met Vronsky; all could be diverted.

The machine started with a gentle hum, which increased to the moderate hum of a commercial aircraft as the engines powered up.

At first it appeared that the trees were moving away from them. Slowly, then picking up speed gradually, so that the trees sped by like a blur. Then the entire cab lifted, and they were above the trees. They ascended through each layer of the atmosphere, until they were as close to the sun as humanly possible.

Now stars, planets, planetary debris sped past them. There was no feeling of time or place. They just existed. Then things slowly down, as gradually as they had speeded up.

The machine lowered through the strata. All of Europe lay before them; then Russia in general. Both Moscow and St. Petersburg were in view. Then all that could be seen were farms. It was greener than anything they had ever seen. The great farmhouse came into view. They settled by a large barn and glided into it.

To be continued…

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

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Another Reason to Rejoice

We just found out about the Sunday Rule for Lent this year. For our family sacrifice, we decided to repeat last year’s disavowal of ice cream. We had been successful in that, although our daily bowl of ice cream was missed, mostly because it was an easily controlled urge. All I had to do was not buy it when I went food shopping.

Last year, we didn’t realize we could have ice cream on Sundays, and actually went the whole 40 days without it. This year I knew we could have it that one day, but decided not to buy it anyway. It would just be beckoning to us all week long.

I finally had a chance to take my ten-year-old daughter out to buy a new softball bat with her birthday money. Her birthday was around Christmas, but the pickings were slim at the sports store in the middle of the winter. So, on my last free Sunday of the season, we headed out before the big snowstorm. I am really not a big shopper, and the big stores are pretty far away, so I tend to save up all my errands. We hit Sports Authority for her birthday bat, Toys’R’Us for my son’s upcoming birthday, and Panera Bread. (We also looked for a Barnes and Nobles, for which she had a gift card, but couldn’t find one.)

I had been carrying around several “free cookie” coupons from Panera Bread since the summer, when my kids had earned them from the Library Summer Reading Program. We stopped in. “The chocolate chip cookies are just coming out of the oven,” the lady behind to counter said.

My daughter leaned in to me and whispered, “I gave up chocolate for Lent.”

I whispered back, “It’s okay. On Sundays you can have what you gave up.”

Her face brightened.

The lady waited impatiently. “Do you know what you want?”

“Yes, we’ll take the chocolate chip cookie please.”

It was so hot that she had trouble getting it into the container without breaking it. The manager cautioned us to be careful.

When we got home, the snowstorm began. After dinner, I served chocolate cake. My eleven-year-old had given up desserts entirely, and was happy to hear she could have some.

What did my almost-eight-year-old son give up? “Being annoying,” at the behest of his sisters. He decided to be really strong and not be annoying, even on Sunday.

And what rewards we reaped! A whole 14 inches of snow that night, and no school! Even my husband stayed home, an extreme rarity for him. They made an igloo. While they were shoveling, I took our 2-1/2-year-old out. The snow was up to her knees, but she insisted on getting through it herself. “The snow is big,” she said.

“O sing unto the Lord a new song; for he hath done marvelous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory.”
Psalms 98:1

Monday, March 2, 2009

The WHY of Sacrifice

My ten-year-old is giving up chocolate for Lent.

“What are you giving up?” she asks me.



“Stuff I don’t need.”

“But isn’t that easy? If you don’t need it, how is that a sacrifice?”

“Well, for me it’s hard to do. And I get to turn it into almsgiving, as well.”

I love it when I can kill two birds with one stone. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving: those make three. If I pray while I am sorting through my belongings, I have them all covered.

Where does the temptation come in? There is temptation to keep stuff; to be lazy; to let it gather in the garage rather than put it in the car and take it to its destination; to not do it one day because I exceeded my minimum goal of ridding my house of one cubic foot of material goods the previous day. (I remember that it matters not what we did for Christ yesterday; He holds us accountable for what we did today.)

In the long run, I and my family will benefit from this Lenten activity. My house is losing weight, so to speak.

That brings up a question I have long had about Lenten fasting. Considering the well-established fact that the majority of American adults are trying to lose weight, I think it must be a thought in the back of their minds that, in giving up candy, snacks, desserts, and meat, they might just lose weight by Easter.

And, if that thought is present, is it wrong?

I had never seen this answer addressed until recently. While reviewing blogs for Catholic Mothers Online, I came across another blogger who held that it is wrong to fast with the motivation of losing weight.

And I suddenly realized that I really disagreed with this conclusion.

I think back to the day I quit smoking. I became a casual smoker in college, and never really thought it was very bad for me. I would not have quit for myself. The day I found out I was pregnant with my first daughter, I quit. Does the fact that this decision was good for me detract from the positive motivation of doing something good for my unborn baby? I don’t think so.

Two years later, a few weeks after the birth of our second daughter, my husband quit. He was a serious smoker, at two packs a day. He was still healthy and had no motivation to quit. However, the day the state tax increased the cost of a pack to $4 (January, 1999), he realized he had to quit for the financial good of the family. He quit cold turkey, and hasn’t slipped once. Again, someone who was giving up something for someone else and benefitted by his own well-being.

As temples of the Holy Spirit, we are commanded to take care of our bodies. When we knowingly fill those temples with things that are not good for us, we are falling prey to the weakness of sin. Year round, God wants us to take care of our bodies. If it takes a sacrifice to God to make it finally happen, I believe He is pleased. If we make that a lasting change, it is even better.

I read that Gwyneth Paltrow regularly goes on cleansing fasts of a minimum of ten days, during which she consumes nothing but water, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper. That would be a fast with the prime motivation of losing weight – and one which most of us would not be capable of holding up to. Now, losing weight or quitting smoking should not be the only motivation in our fasts, but the fact that it is difficult and we are willing to do it for God, while offering up our suffering in prayer, I believe makes it an acceptable Lenten sacrifice.

“But, even if I am poured out as a libation upon the sacrificial service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with all of you.”
Philippians 2:17

Landscape with the Temptation of Christ, Joos de Momper, 1564

Also posted at St. Blog’s The Divine Gift of Motherhood.